HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Wyden Sees a ‘Practical’ Drug Pricing Bill

The Senate Democrat leading the charge on reining in drug prices says he is crafting a plan to empower the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies that offers “flexibility.”

Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said he “will not give up” on his drug pricing plan—meant to offset some of Democrats’ social spending and tax package—despite pushback from industry and moderates in his own party. “We’re going to insist on it,” he said. “We understand that the American people expect the Congress, and Democrats specifically, to deliver.”

Democrats want to empower the government to negotiate the prices of expensive medicines with pharmaceutical companies. They also want to limit the amount that medication prices can increase from year to year. Though the contents of Democrats’ sweeping domestic policy package are in flux, Wyden’s comments signal the drug proposal remains a priority.

Democratic leaders said yesterday that a deal on a sweeping domestic spending package carrying a major drug pricing provision could be near. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters “we’re almost to the stretch” on a deal.

It’s not clear the flexibility Wyden envisions will be enough to gain the support of moderates in his party who have voiced concerns about drug price restrictions. The position of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), a key vote on Democrats’ efforts to pass their package under a move to bypass the need for GOP support, isn’t well known. Wyden declined to say if she’s endorsed his proposal.

Some Democrats have opposed using the pharmaceutical industry to pay for other priorities and worry that lowering prices will stymie drugmakers’ ability to invest in new medicines.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who has opposed some proposals to permit the government to negotiate for lower prices, said yesterday that Wyden has kept him in the dark about many of the details of his proposal. Menendez said until Wyden shows him the full proposal, he can’t sign off on it. “When they decide to show it to me I’ll judge it,” he said. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden at a CNN town hall last night said getting all dental, vision and hearing provisions he wants in the deal on his economic agenda is “a reach,” Laura Curtis and Josh Wingrove report.

Biden said they might get an $800 voucher on dental from medicare, but there’s no deal yet. Biden said he thinks something on hearing will be in the deal, which Sinema supports, and pointed out hearing is tied to dementia. Biden said vision is harder and there’s no consensus.

Also Happening on the Hill

Duckworth Bill to Invest in Liver Cancer Research: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) re-introduced legislation that seeks to boost “federal support for liver cancer research and help make life-saving preventive and treatment services more accessible to people all across the country,” according to a statement. It would boost funding for liver cancer research at the National Institutes of Health by $45 million and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by $90 million, the statement says. Read the release here.

Tai Pressed on Tariff Exclusions for China PPE: Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) want certain medical products and materials from China to no longer be excluded from Section 301 tariffs. Rather than providing help to Chinese-made products, “we should invest in and support our domestic manufacturers,” the two senators told U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. Domestic supplies would help the U.S. prepare for future epidemics, they said, Laura Curtis reports.

House to Vote on Nursing Mother Accommodations Bill: Lawmakers are scheduled to vote today on one bill H.R. 3110 under a structured rule that would expand workplace accommodations for nursing workers — such as reasonable break times and private lactation areas. For more, See the BGOV Bill Summary by Naoreen Chowdhury.

Letters to Lawmakers:

The Coronavirus Pandemic

CDC Advisers Endorse Moderna, J&J Boosters: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backed Covid-19 booster shots from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, a move that will allow recipients of all three shots cleared in the U.S. to receive a supplemental dose to bolster their immunity against the coronavirus.

Additionally, the CDC said that eligible people may choose a different booster from the vaccine they originally received, granting more flexibility to patients and doctors as the U.S. tries to stave off another wave of infections.

The clearance by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky came after a daylong meeting of an expert panel that advises the agency on vaccine policy. The 15-member Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted unanimously to recommended both the Moderna and J&J shots. Fiona Rutherford, Robert Langreth, and Riley Griffin have more.

  • Federal regulators acknowledged during a press call Wednesday that different eligibility conditions for each vaccine could create complications in the booster rollout. Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said her agency has been working closely with public health officials to ensure providers have as much information as possible, Jeannie Baumann reports.
  • Related: Complex Booster Plan Muddies Vaccine Message for Weary Public

Pfizer Says Booster Restores Full Virus Protection: Pfizer and BioNTech said booster shots of their Covid-19 vaccine restored full protection in a large study, results that are likely to bolster the argument for giving a third dose more widely. A booster was 95.6% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 in the study, which followed 10,000 people aged 16 and older, the two companies said in a statement yesterday. The fast-spreading delta variant was the predominate strain during the trial. Read more from Naomi Kresge.

FEMA Wants to Promote Funeral Help: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is trying to get the word out about funeral assistance funds available to relatives of people who died from Covid-19. FEMA is seeking an outside ad agency to promote the program in areas with high rates of coronavirus deaths, high vulnerability, and low funeral assistance registrations. FEMA has provided nearly $1.16 billion in funeral assistance so far, according to early October data, Ellen M. Gilmer reports.

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What Else to Know Today

Drugmakers Boost Lobbying Spending: The pharmaceutical industry spent heavily on lobbying over the past three months, putting several companies on track for record spending as Democrats look to reduce what patients pay for many of the most-expensive drugs. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry’s main lobbying body, spent $7.4 million on lobbying from July through September, up from about $6 million in the same span in 2020, filings to Congress show.

PhRMA has spent $22.4 million on lobbying this year, compared with $25.5 million during all of 2020 and $28.8 million in all of 2019. The lobbying rush comes as lawmakers debate how to leverage the power of the federal government to lower what Americans pay for medicines and offset the cost of Biden’s sweeping domestic spending legislation (H.R. 5376). Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Texas Says SCOTUS Must Leave Abortion Ban Intact: Texas officials urged the U.S. Supreme Court to leave in force the country’s strictest abortion law, saying that justices should reject calls by the Biden administration and clinics to intervene in the high-stakes clash. In papers filed yesterday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) argued states can structure their laws to help insulate them from legal attack—something Texas sought to do with its novel enforcement mechanism in the abortion law. Greg Stohr has more.

Drugmakers Get FDA Real-World Data Guidance: Drugmakers yesterday received insight on how they can transform real-world evidence into tangible data for studies supporting approval applications. The FDA’s draft guidance includes recommendations on how to include these data sources in regulatory submissions in compliance with the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Real-world data include indicators of a patient’s health or the delivery of health care, gathered from e-health records. Celine Castonuovo has more.

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