HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: State AGs Seek Congress’ Help on Sacklers

Two state attorneys general and the head of the House Oversight and Reform Committee will make the case today for legislation to ensure members of the Sackler family can’t evade lawsuits over their role in the nation’s overdose crisis.

The hearing showcases how key lawmakers and prosecutors are dedicated to ensuring that members of the Sackler family with ties to Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin opioid painkillers, can’t skirt pending lawsuits. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) unveiled legislation (H.R. 2096) to close a loophole to prevent those who haven’t filed for bankruptcy from being released from lawsuits brought by the U.S. government, as well as states and local governments in bankruptcy.

“It is imperative that Congress act swiftly to prevent the Sacklers, and other bad actors like them, from manipulating the bankruptcy system to evade accountability for their actions,” Maloney said.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden will appear before the panel today to say the measure is needed to let them continue lawsuits against members of the Sackler family. “The Sacklers are not offering to pay anything near what they should for the harm and devastation caused to families and communities,” Healy told ABC News over the weekend.

Purdue Pharma has sought to resolve thousands of lawsuits against the company by handing over company assets worth more than $5 billion and more than $4 billion from members of the Sackler family to states, cities, and counties. In exchange for both the assets and cash, slated to be paid out over nine years, Purdue and the Sacklers would be legally insulated from existing and future opioid lawsuits, according to court documents, Alex Ruoff reports.

Happening on the Hill

Nominations: The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a nomination hearing for Dawn O’Connell to be assistant secretary for preparedness and response and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon to be assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, both within the Health and Human Services Department.

Pallone Wants H.R. 3 in Biden Plan: The head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to attach a bill to empower the government to negotiate with drugmakers to a larger economic and jobs plan. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) told reporters he hopes to pass his party’s signature drug pricing bill (H.R. 3) as part of a major legislative package this year. “We would like to attach it to that larger jobs bill and that’s what I’ll do when that bill moves,” Pallone said on a call with reporters.

Pallone pushed back on the idea that moderate Democrats will oppose the legislation, saying he thinks nearly every member his caucus will support the bill. “The votes are clearly there to have the government negotiate prices,” he said. House Democrats on May 10 sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) laying out their concerns with H.R. 3. Pallone said he has spoken with some of those Democrats and expects most will back his drug pricing bill, Alex Ruoff reports.

Democrats Seek to Codify Roe v. Wade: A slate of congressional Democrats will introduce a bill to enshrine the protections of Roe v. Wade into law by barring states from creating medically unnecessary limits on abortion services. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), along with four House lawmakers, plan to unveil the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” guaranteeing access to abortion services and permitting doctors to offer such services. It comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a challenge to Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks, Ruoff reports.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Biden, Johnson to Rally G-7 for Vaccine Push After U.S. Hoarding: Joe Biden’s first overseas trip as president will focus on bolstering the availability of Western coronavirus vaccines abroad — a bid to both counter China and calm tensions with allies who’ve been at odds with the U.S. over its hoarding of shots and intellectual property rights.

Biden departs tomorrow for the Group of Seven summit in the U.K., leaving the U.S., where the pandemic is receding, to discuss how the world’s richest democracies can help the rest of the world snuff out the virus. Both Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson aim to rally the G-7 behind a plan to make more shots available to low-income countries. Biden and Johnson will meet for the first time on Thursday, before the G-7. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Gangrene, Hearing Loss Point to More Severe Variant: The coronavirus variant that drove India’s devastating Covid-19 epidemic is the most infectious to emerge so far. Doctors now want to know if it’s also more severe.

Hearing impairment, severe gastric upsets and blood clots leading to gangrene, symptoms not typically seen in Covid-19 patients, have been linked by doctors in India to the so-called Delta, or B.1.617.2, variant. In England and Scotland, early evidence suggests the now-dominant strain carries a higher risk of hospitalization. Read more from Bhuma Shrivastava.

CDC Study Shows mRNA Vaccines Cut Infection Risk 91%: A new CDC study involving groups that are more likely to be exposed to coronavirus finds the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration to reduce the risk of infection by 91% for fully vaccinated people. The study’s preliminary results had first been announced in March. Read more from Luzi Ann Javier.

China Markets Sales Stoke Natural Origins Theory: Chinese markets linked to some of the earliest Covid-19 cases were illegally selling a range of wildlife from which the coronavirus may have spread, according to a study published less than two weeks after Biden ordered a deeper probe into the pandemic’s genesis. The paper in the journal Scientific Reports was originally submitted last October. Read more from Jason Gale.

  • Meanwhile, a classified May 2020 report by a U.S. government national laboratory concluded that the hypothesis that the Covid-19 virus had leaked from a Chinese lab in Wuhan was plausible and deserved further investigation, Dow Jones reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the document. Read more from Jim Silver.

More Headlines:

What Else to Know Today

Biden Unveils Supply-Chain Plan to Boost Medicine, Chip Output: Biden released a multi-pronged strategy to secure critical supply chains in products ranging from medicines to microchips, and is also weighing a potential trade probe that could result in U.S. tariffs on certain magnet imports, officials said.

The administration will establish a supply-chain disruptions task force to address near-term bottlenecks that can affect the economic recovery. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, together with her transportation and agriculture counterparts Pete Buttigieg and Tom Vilsack, will lead the team that will focus on supply-demand mismatches in areas like homebuilding and construction, semiconductors, transportation, agriculture and food, administration officials told reporters. Read more from Jenny Leonard.

Alzheimer’s Drug Approved in Disease Landmark: Biogen’s contentious Alzheimer’s disease therapy was approved by federal regulators, a landmark decision that stands to dramatically change treatment for the debilitating brain condition. The Food and Drug Administration granted the antibody therapy an accelerated approval, which means that Biogen will need to conduct more research to establish the drug’s benefits for it to remain on the market. Read more from Robert Langreth.

  • The approval sharply divided clinicians and advocates over whether it has the ability to change the disease’s progress and how it will be used. The decision comes despite opposition from the FDA’s independent advisory committee, and with the agency saying that evidence from clinical trials was incomplete on the drug’s effectiveness. Still, one thing is clear: Having the drug on the market will change Alzheimer’s care. Read more from John Tozzi and Elaine Chen.
  • Related: Biogen’s FDA Victory Changes the Game for Alzheimer’s Drugs

Medicare Payment Model Review Aims For Equity: A strategic review of Medicare payment models will look to reshape their future development and implementation to better address issues of health disparities and equity, Liz Fowler, director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, said yesterday. The CMMI develops and evaluates Medicare alternative payment models to test new reimbursement formulas that create incentives and reward providers for delivering cost-effective care that improves patient outcomes. Read more from Tony Pugh.

Trump HHS Chief Azar Resurfaces at Aspen Institute: Former Trump administration Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who’s said little publicly since leaving the position, has joined the Aspen Institute’s Health Strategy Group to develop health policy solutions for challenges facing the U.S. The group is made up of 20 leaders in health care, including former HHS secretaries from both Democratic and Republican administrations. Read more from Shira Stein.

Cancer Escapes Covid-19 Shadow for Pharma: For more than a year, the coronavirus has remained the focus of the health-care sector and all that exists in its orbit, demanding the attention of U.S. health officials, hospitals and headlines. But now the hottest and most heavily invested-in area of drug development—cancer—is starting to step out from the shadows. Drugmakers at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting that began Friday and runs through today are eager to rekindle interest in a business that saw its market value drop and its products underperform sales estimates as the pandemic played out. Read more from Riley Griffin.

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

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

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