Senate Democrats are planning another drug price hearing

The influential Senate Finance Committee is eyeing holding a hearing on the cost of medicines as Democrats hope to craft a scaled-back version of President Biden’s economic package, according to four people with knowledge of the matter.

Though not yet official, the hearing could occur as soon as this month, per three of the people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private discussions. It would likely center around the urgency of addressing high pharmaceutical prices. The idea, in part, is to highlight the need to pass drug pricing legislation soon, according to a Senate Democratic aide.

Democrats’ plan to lower the cost of prescription drugs has broad support within the party, after lawmakers clinched a deal following a frenzy of negotiations last fall. And doing so is important to Democrats, who are seeking legislative victories ahead of the midterms.

  • In his State of the Union on Tuesday, Biden called on Congress to send the measure to his desk, specifically name-checking provisions to cap the cost of insulin to $35 per month and allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.):

The manchin factor: Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), who has been an obstacle to passing the more sweeping economic package, has consistently expressed support for Democrats’ drug pricing overhaul, such as granting Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices for the first time.

Earlier this week, Manchin laid out guidelines for legislation he could support in an interview with political.

  • If Democrats want to cut a party-line deal, Manchin said they should start with the revenue generated from the drug pricing provisions and reforming the tax code. Those savings could be put toward reducing the deficit and inflation, as well as creating new climate and social programs.

The West Virginia senator has also previously demanded that any such package move through the regular committee process.

In the absence of direct talks with the White House, some committee chairs stepped in at the best of Senate Majority Leaders Chuck Schumer to engage with Manchin on what he could get on board with, The Post’s Sean Sullivan other Seung Min Kim reported last month. Our colleagues noted that panel chairs were tentatively planning hearings in the coming weeks.

  • “There’s a lot of unity among Democrats for lowering the cost of drugs prescription,” a Schumer aide told The Health 202. “It’s something we can get done to help lower costs for Americans.” The aide stressed that Schumer has made it a priority in the Senate and pointed to support from Manchin and Biden’s address Tuesday.

Biden is still seeking a health-care win. Back in December, Manchin said he couldn’t vote for Democrats’ roughly $2 trillion bill to overhaul the country’s health-care, education, climate, immigration and tax laws.

Since then, Democrats have conceded to the new reality: If they pass anything, it’ll have to be a pared-down version of a reconciliation bill (referring to the process the party is using to circumvent GOP votes). Measures aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs are widely viewed as a strong contender for inclusion in any such effort.

On health care… “Drug pricing is the engine right now driving the legislative effort,” said Frederick Isasi, the executive director of Families USAa liberal consumer health group.

In 2020, Democrats campaigned on a slew of health-care changes if they won Congress and the White House. And they’ve frankly fretted about what not delivering on those promises could mean for November’s midterm elections.

  • Passing legislation could be good politics. “For Democrats who have been supporting these ideas for several years, and campaigning on doing something about prescription drug prices, it would be a good turn of events for them… from a policy perspective, but also, I think, from a political perspective, said Juliette Cubanskia deputy director at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

US to share some covid-19 technologies with the World Health Organization

The Biden administration will share some technologies being developed by the National Institutes of Health with the World Health Organization, an effort to better fight the pandemic abroad, our colleague Dan Diamond reported yesterday.

Officials said that under the plan, developers in foreign countries will be able to replicate the manufacturing process of American scientific breakthroughs to boost global supplies.

  • The new policy is not intended to apply to the vaccines and therapeutics developed by private companies and are currently in the US market, people familiar with the new policy told Dan.
  • The plan’s details are still being fleshed out. The technologies will be licensed to the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool and sub-licensed to the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization:

The rise and fall of vaccine requirements

Mandates requiring vaccinations to enter public places gained steam in large cities with the rise of omicron. The effort was seen as a way to keep the unvaccinated out of high-risk settings — and pressure them to get shots, our colleague Fenit Nirappil reports.

But many of those cities are now dropping the requirements as the recent surge recedes.

  • On Feb 15, washington, dc, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser abruptly scraped the mandates to enter gyms and restaurants.
  • Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and Seattle soon followed.
  • New York, which was the first city to announce such a requirement, will get rid of its mandate Monday.

Here’s what else we learned from Fenit’s story:

  • Public officials said the vaccine requirement encouraged at least some holdouts to get the shot, especially among children and young adults. But public officials doubt whether keeping them in place would persuade more people.
  • But did the mandates to enter restaurants and public places actually slow infection rates? It’s unclear because the requirements were short-lived and enacted during a nationwide surge that made it difficult to track exposure to the virus.
  • Regardless, some cities — like Chicago and Philadelphia — said they are prepared to bring back vaccine mandates to combat future surges.

As for masking recommendations … more than 90% of the country now lives in areas with low or medium covid-19 rates. That means mask recommendations are eased in the vast majority of the United States, according to data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released yesterday.

House passes legislation to expand coverage for veterans exposed to toxins

The House passed a bill Thursday that would expand health-care eligibility for up to 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other toxins during their military service, The Post’s Mariana Alfaro reports.

  • Burn pits, which were used by the US military to dispose of waste and hazardous materials throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, exposed veterans to toxins resulting in long-lasting medical problems.
  • Biden called on Congress to address the issue during his State of the Union address Tuesday, when he speculated that the death of his son Beau Bidena major in the Army National Guard, might have been caused by his exposure to burn pits overseas.

Thirty-four Republicans joined all House Democrats to pass the legislation on a 256-to-174 vote. GOP lawmakers who voted against the measure cited its hefty price tag and the country’s existing deficit for their opposition.

The bill known as Honoring our PACT Actmust now be reconciled with a similar measure in the Senate before it can head to Biden’s desk.

New last night: The Florida state Senate passed legislation banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, our colleague Caroline Kitchener reports.

The state House approved the bill last month, and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign it. The Florida legislation is modeled after a Mississippi law, which the Supreme Court appears likely to uphold.

  • “Republican lawmakers in Florida, Arizona and West Virginia have been racing to pass their own versions of the Mississippi law, hoping to maximize the chance that their legislation will take effect as soon as the Supreme Court rules this summer,” Caroline writes.

The Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 that Kentucky‘s Republican attorney general should be allowed to continue to defend the state’s restrictive abortion law after Democratic officials dropped the case after courts found the law unconstitutional, The Post’s Robert Barnes reports.

the cases cameron v EMW Women’s Surgical Center, doesn’t consider the merits of the law, which would mostly outlaw dilation and evacuation abortion after 15 weeks. But rather it’s focused on who can continue to argue on behalf of the law.

  • The federal Medicaid agency sent states detailed guidance on determining which Medicaid enrollees are still eligible for coverage once the public health emergency ends. The agency said the effort should be done in an “orderly process that minimizes beneficiary burden and promotes continuity of coverage.”
  • Members of the Sackler family, who own Purdue Pharma, reached an agreement to pay up to $6 billion to resolve lawsuits alleging the OxyContin maker helped fuel the opioid epidemic, per our colleague Meryl Kornfield.
  • Civica Rx, a nonprofit founded by a consortium of hospitals, announced it will begin manufacturing and selling generic versions of insulin at no more than $30 per vial in 2024, The Post’s Christopher Rowland writes.
  • Senate Republicans narrowly passed a GOP-led bill to end the national emergency declaration for the covid-19 pandemic Thursday, but Biden has already pledged to veto the measure if it got to his desk.

Thanks for reading! See y’all Monday.

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