HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Industry Lobbying Slowed During Pandemic

Drugmakers and hospital groups slowed their lobbying spending as the coronavirus spread across the U.S., according to the latest federal lobbying disclosures.

Both the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association spent less on lobbying in the second quarter of 2020 than they did in same quarter for 2019. The AHA spent $4.3 million from April through June, a decrease from the $4.9 million during the same period the year before. The AMA spent $3.8 million, less than the $4.7 million a year earlier.

Similarly, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry’s lead lobbying group, spent $5.4 million in the second quarter of 2020, down from $6.2 million during the same time in 2019.

The lobbying spending of these healthcare groups during the second quarter, which corresponds with the height of the coronavirus lockdowns, also dipped from the amount spent on lobbying during the first three months of 2020, when the AHA spent $5.9 million, the AMA spent $6.6 million, and PhRMA spent $9 million.

All three groups have been spending more on lobbying in recent years: PhRMA posted a record year in 2019, spending nearly $29 million, and the AHA hit a three-year high last year at $21.7 million. The AMA’s annual spending has only slightly fluctuated, but increased almost $300,000 from 2018 to 2019 to reach more than $20 million for that year.

Drugmakers successfully fended off attempts to attach a provision capping the cost of new vaccines or drugs to treat Covid-19 to all the coronavirus-relief packages passed by Congress this year. Hospitals and doctors received $175 billion in relief funds from those packages.

However, the current economic downturn has hit hospitals and doctor’s practices harder than previous slowdowns. The health industry has shed millions of jobs as hospitals have been forced to stop offering lucrative elective procedures as they deal with the spreading virus, Alex Ruoff and Megan Wilson report.

On Lawmakers’ Radars

Seven-Bill Spending Minibus Set for Next Week: The House Appropriations Committee introduced a summary of its second package of spending bills (H.R. 7617), which will be considered on the chamber floor next week. The minibus includes funding for programs under the Health and Human Services Department. Read the committee summary here.

Funding for Vaccines, Opening Schools: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the next round of coronavirus aid will center on measures to get children returned to schools and workers back into jobs, as well as develop vaccines to blunt the pandemic. Mnuchin and President Donald Trump met yesterday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) at the White House.

The focus of the next phase of aid will be “kids and jobs and vaccines,” Mnuchin, who will have a central role in negotiations, told reporters. Along with funds still untapped from previous rounds of relief, Republicans are “starting with another trillion dollars. We think that will make a big impact,” he added. Read more from Laura Litvan and Erik Wasson.

Still, some Republicans were bristling at White House resistance to including a $25 billion initiative to help states with coronavirus testing and contact tracing. “I just think that’s wrong,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the GOP leadership. “If you’re going to get people back to school and back to work, having those kinds of tests are really important.”

He indicated that the administration also doesn’t agree with proposals for funding to distribute a vaccine. “The other thing they’ve questioned is money to distribute the vaccines,” Blunt said. “The vaccine is not very good if it’s not properly distributed.” Read more from Laura Litvan Erik Wasson.

  • Meanwhile, the leaders of the New Democrat Coalition, one of the largest caucuses in the House, said new funding for Covid-19 testing and contact tracing are a “redline” for them in the next pandemic measure. Chairman Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) said that the coalition wants a national testing and tracing strategy as well as money to see it through in the next package, Alex Ruoff reports.
  • Members of the group are also demanding the package carry a provision creating a special enrollment period for both Medicare and Obamacare’s individual marketplaces. They also want to tie expanded federal funding for Medicaid to certain economic metrics, which would keep in place the new money to states potentially beyond the pandemic if the economy doesn’t rebound by then, Ruoff reports.

Today’s Talks: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will host a meeting at 3:15 p.m. to discuss pandemic aid with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Mnuchin, according to a person familiar with the matter, Wasson and Litvan report.

Lamar Plans $15B for Public Health Emergencies: Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he’s introducing a bill providing $15 billion over the next 10 years to prepare for public health emergencies like Covid-19, Nancy Ognanovich and Alex Ruoff report.

Alexander, also a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, said the “Preparing for the Next Pandemic Act” is aimed at making sure the U.S. has sufficient manufacturing capacity to address health threats without reliance on foreign governments. it would be paid for in part with advance appropriations.

Alexander said on the Senate floor yesterday the bill would provide $1.5 billion annually. The first element calls for $500 million annually for onshore manufacturing for tests, treatments, and vaccines. The second part calls for $1 billion in annual funding for states to create and maintain their own stockpiles of items ranging from masks to ventilators.

Alexander said he’s also proposing to create more authority to allow the federal government to work closely with private companies to maintain supplies and increase manufacturing capacity.

Alexander said he would like to see the measure passed this month at the same time the Senate is taking up a new stimulus package.

“While we’re spending $4 trillion or more, mostly to repair the damage caused by this pandemic, we should authorize and spend the few billions that it takes to be prepared for the next pandemic,” Alexander said. “I intend to keep legislation to better prepare for future pandemics on the top of the congressional to-do list until it’s done.”

Democrats Say Azar Should Resign: Top Democratic lawmakers are calling for HHS Secretary Alex Azar to stand up for public health officials such as Anthony Fauci and experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or resign. “You have done nothing to protect your own staff when the health of the nation depends on their expertise now more than ever,” said House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairwoman Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) in a letter to Azar, Shira Stein reports.

Vaccine Development: DeGette’s panel holds a hearing today on the development of vaccines for Covid-19. Executives from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, and Pfizer will testify.

Virus, Age & Race: The Senate Special Committee on Aging holds a hearing on Covid-19, seniors, and racial health disparities.

Food Boxes: The House Agriculture Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations Subcommittee meets for an overview of the Farmers to Families Food Box program.

Letters & Legislation:

Research, Treatment & Coordination

Oxford Vaccine Shows Early Promise: The coronavirus vaccine the University of Oxford is developing with AstraZeneca showed promising results after early human trials, and is now set to move into larger trials that could be decisive on how effective they truly are. The Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate increased levels of both protective neutralizing antibodies and immune T-cells that target SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, according to the study organizers.

The results, published yesterday in The Lancet medical journal, are a milestone for one of the fastest-moving vaccine projects globally. Read more from James Paton, Stephanie Baker and Suzi Ring.

Health Leaders Tout Vaccines to Black Community: Even before a Covid-19 vaccine is ready, top health officials want to build public support for getting the shot, especially among Black Americans who are more skeptical of the vaccine. The U.S. needs nearly 230 million Americans to get the vaccine to ensure herd immunity, but public health officials worry that skepticism about the first shot for a new disease combined with historic racial inequities in health care could scare away people who, otherwise, would receive it. Read more from Jacquie Lee.

More on Vaccine Efforts:

Treatment Based on Race Threatens Funds: Doctors must ensure they don’t discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity as they make treatment decisions through the Covid-19 pandemic, an HHS office said. Nondiscrimination includes making sure people from minority communities are not subjected to “excessive wait times, rejected for hospital admissions, or denied access to intensive care units” compared with similar non-minority people, HHS’s civil rights office said. Read more from Shira Stein.

Trump Makes Sudden Push for Mask-Wearing: Trump, who for months resisted covering his face in public, tweeted that “it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance.” And Vice President Mike Pence told governors in a teleconference that he supported their mask mandates, with the administration even sending a memorandum to New Jersey recommending that it continue its order. The reversal followed polls that showed Trump’s refusal to champion masks was out of step with citizens terrified by rising case counts nationwide. Read more from David R. Baker and Margaret Newkirk.

Trump Says He Will Resume Virus Briefings: Trump said he would resume his briefings to the public on the pandemic, as infections surge around the country. Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office yesterday, Trump said he will probably hold a briefing today at 5 p.m. at the White House. “We’ve had this big flare up in Florida, Texas, a couple of other places. So I think what we’re going to do is I’ll get involved and we’ll start doing briefings,” Trump said. Justin Sink has more.

More Headlines:

What Else to Know Today

States Line Up to Oppose LGBT Health Bias Rule: Legal challenges against the Trump administration’s rewrite of anti-discrimination protections in health care are mounting as a growing number of states join the battle to regain safeguards for LGBTQ people and individuals seeking abortions. A coalition of 22 states and the District of Columbia led by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the rule that allows health workers, facilities, and insurance companies that receive federal funding to deny care or coverage to LGBTQ people, or someone seeking an abortion. Read more from Lydia Wheeler.

Conservatives Urge Trump Against International Pricing Index: FreedomWorks, Americans for Tax Reform and other groups sent a letter to the White House opposing an international pricing index proposal, Alex Ruoff reports. The White House has signaled to the pharmaceutical industry Trump is planning an executive order on drug pricing as early as this week, drug industry lobbyists say. Trump has proposed an international pricing index in the past, pegging the price of some medicines in the U.S. to their costs overseas.

More Headlines:

With assistance from Shira Stein and Nancy Ognanovich

To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com; Megan R. Wilson in Washington at mwilson@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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