HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: House Votes to Boost ACA in 2020 Strategy

Legislation to boost Obamacare subsidies and direct the federal government to demand lower prices on certain medicines won House passage yesterday, in an election-year reprise of earlier votes that Democratic leaders had engineered to highlight differences with the Republican Senate and the Trump administration.

The bill (H.R. 1425) would expand the Affordable Care Act’s tax credits and pressure states to expand Medicaid programs with the promise of more federal funds. It would cap what any person may pay for coverage premiums at 8.5% of income. It would also let immigrants living in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program get access to subsidized insurance plans.

The measure stands no chance of becoming law in the current Congress, but Democratic leaders said they’re making good on a 2018 campaign promise to protect the Affordable Care Act.

“When Democrats won the majority in the House, we did so promising to work to expand coverage, lower out-of-pocket costs, and provide greater stability for health insurance marketplaces,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on the chamber floor yesterday. “That’s what we promised and we picked up 40 net seats. This bill as part of that promise.”

The bill passed 234 to 179.

The package combines bills that have already passed the House (H.R. 987; H.R. 3) this session of Congress but not the Senate. Those measures have also drawn veto threats from the Trump administration.

Republican leaders said Democrats aren’t serious about boosting the Affordable Care Act and warned that the legislation’s drug-pricing provisions would stymie investment in innovative new medicines.

“They find the political fear mongering to be too potent in an election-year weapon,” Ways and Means ranking member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said. “So, we continue this charade.” Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Congressional Virus Efforts

Pelosi Extends Proxy Voting Through Aug. 18: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) extended by 45 days the chamber’s emergency procedures that permit members to cast floor votes remotely by designating colleagues in the chamber to be their proxy. Pelosi acted as the first 45-day period drew to a close under a bill adopted in May over Republican opposition to allow for remote votes during floor votes and in committee markups. James Rowley has more.

  • House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) chair of the House Select Coronavirus Crisis Committee, blasted Republicans for not wearing masks at a hearing Friday and told Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), the panel’s top Republican, that he won’t recognize any member in a subcommittee meeting or hearing unless the lawmaker is wearing a mask, Victoria Hodge reports.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday on the floor that Americans should be wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He said it is common sense to wear a mask when in public near others to protect them, Catherine Dodge reports.

Grassley to Renew Drug-Pricing Push: The chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee will push for a vote on his drug-pricing measure without the help of critical allies: Senate Democrats. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) will reintroduce a drug pricing package (S. 2543) that he put together with the ranking member of his committee, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and soon call on Senate leaders to allow debate on the measure, a Grassley spokesman said. Alex Ruoff has more.

Today’s Hearings:

Letters & Legislation:

Research, Testing & Treatment

Pence to Meet with Arizona Governor Amid Virus Surge: Vice President Mike Pence will now meet with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) tomorrow, the White House said in a statement. The update came the same day Ducey announced a series of policies to try and curb the surge of virus cases in his state, including a month-long closure of bars, gyms, movie theaters, waterparks and tubing rentals, as well as school start delays, restrictions on gathering sizes and other measures, according to a tweet.

Gilead Takes Middle Ground in Remdesivir Price: Gilead Sciences said that it will charge U.S. hospitals roughly $3,120 for most patients who need remdesivir, picking a middle ground in a high-profile decision on the cost of one of the first drugs for Covid-19. People suffering from the illness caused by the coronavirus are usually given six vials of remdesivir over five days. The cost, which comes to $520 a vial, would apply to commercially insured patients in the U.S., according to a letter from CEO Daniel O’Day. Read more from Robert Langreth.

  • The HHS said yesterday it has secured 500,000 treatment courses of remdesivir for hospitals through September. This represents 100% of the drugmaker’s projected production in July, 90% of production in August, and 90% of production in September. Read more from Kasia Klimasinska.

Testing in Hotspots See Long Lines, Delays: The U.S. is again grappling with a shortfall of testing that has hobbled the nation since the coronavirus outbreak’s early weeks, and now threatens to further undermine containment efforts at a crucial moment. In new hot spots like Arizona, Texas, and Florida, where Covid-19 is rapidly spreading, lines for testing extended outside of urgent-care offices and other sites. Two school football stadiums in Houston regularly hit capacity by mid-morning and have had to turn people away. Read more from Emma Court.

  • Houston-area intensive-care unit wards were 95% full as of Sunday, up from 93% on Saturday, data from the Texas Medical Center show. Covid patients occupied 34% of the beds, compared with 31% a day earlier. The number of Covid-19 patients needing ICU admission is growing by an average of 3.5% a day, the center said. Read more.
  • Miami-Dade—Florida’s most populous county—reported 1,149 patients with Covid-19 admitted to hospitals as of yesterday, an increase of 67 from a day earlier and the most since at least the first week of May. Read more.

Worst Is Yet to Come, WHO Director Says: Six months since the World Health Organization became aware of the novel coronavirus, the “worst is yet to come” due to a lack of international solidarity, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said yesterday at a briefing in Geneva. Some countries are experiencing a resurgence of cases and half the deaths are coming from the Americas, he said. Read more.

More Headlines:

What Else to Know

Biden to Assail Trump’s Handling of Coronavirus Pandemic:Joe Biden is set to sharply criticize Donald Trump’s stewardship of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying the president is dismissing the threat of the virus as cases surge. More than six months after the first reported Covid-19 case in the U.S., Biden on Tuesday will deliver a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, outlining what he will call a failed presidential response that has exacerbated a crisis other countries have managed to control. Read more from Tyler Pager.

SCOTUS Protects Abortions in Louisiana: A divided U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that required abortion-clinic doctors to get privileges at a local hospital in a surprise reinforcement for women’s reproductive rights. Chief Justice John Roberts provided the crucial vote, joining the court’s liberal justices in the 5-4 majority yesterday. He said he was bound by a 2016 ruling that struck down a similar Texas law, even though he was in dissent in that verdict and still disagrees with the ruling. Read more from Greg Stohr.

Swine Flu Infecting Humans Raises Fears of Pandemic Potential: A strain of flu virus spreading in Chinese pigs has shown it can also infect humans, suggesting that another pathogen with pandemic potential waits in the wings behind the coronavirus. The flu strain that jumped to humans has become predominant among pigs across China since 2016, according to a team of researchers that includes George Gao Fu, head of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers based their findings on surveillance studies conducted in 10 provinces from 2011 through 2018. Read more from Bloomberg News.

More Headlines:

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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