Health Care — Congress closes in on COVID relief, insulin price cap

Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here and view the full edition here.

It makes sense if you’re from North Carolina: Country music star Eric Church canceled a concert scheduled for this Saturday so he can attend the University of North Carolina’s Final Four basketball game against Duke.

Senators are closing in on a deal to provide the Biden administration with $10 billion in COVID-19 relief funding, less than half of what the White House initially asked for. We’ll look at the latest details as lawmakers work to finalize a deal.

For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan, Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Send us tips and feedback at psullivan@thehill.com, nweixel@thehill.com and jchoi@thehill.com.

Let’s get started.

Senate finalizing $10 billion deal on coronavirus aid

Senators are finalizing an agreement to provide $10 billion in new coronavirus aid as they race to try to pass a bill before a two-week break set to start in days.

Those involved in the deal signaled that they were close to a finalized agreement but said they were still ironing out legislative text, waiting for an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and haggling over final details.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.), who has been in talks with a group of Republican senators, said that they were “getting close to a final agreement that would garner bipartisan support.”

“We are working diligently to finalize language, scoring, and a final agreement on what should be funded in the final COVID package, both domestic and international,” he added.

In a sign of how close senators are to a final agreement, Schumer canceled a procedural vote on a bill that senators are using as a vehicle for a coronavirus aid deal, with the move being aimed at showing Republicans that he isn’t trying to jam them.

Republicans were more bullish about the state of the negotiations.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who is involved in the negotiations, said that the group had reached a “deal in principle.”

“We haven’t got the final draft done, and it hasn’t been scored by the CBO, but we’ve reached an agreement in principle on all the spending and all of the offsets,” Romney said.

Read more here.

House votes on bill to cap insulin price

The House on Thursday was poised to vote on legislation to cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month, a move that would significantly lower the price of the life-saving drug for more than 7 million diabetes patients.

The measure was authored by three House Democrats facing competitive reelection races this fall: Reps. Angie Craig (Minn.), Dan Kildee (Mich.) and Lucy McBath (Ga.).

Under the bill, Medicare beneficiaries would pay no more than $35 for each 30-day insulin prescription. Cost sharing for beneficiaries in private plans would be limited to the lesser of either $35, or 25 percent of the health plan’s negotiated price for a 30-day prescription.

Political victories: The insulin cap was originally part of the sweeping health reforms in Democrats’ Build Back Better legislation.

But Sen. Joe Manchin’s (DW.Va.) opposition to the legislation put the larger bill on ice, and Democrats carved out the insulin provision as a standalone vote as a way to get a tangible victory on an issue of major importance to Americans — even if the underlying issue of high drug costs wasn’t being solved.

What’s next: Across the Capitol, a bill from Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) would also implement an out-of-pocket cap on insulin at $35 per month.

But in an effort to gain Republican support, it may be combined with bipartisan legislation from Sens. Jean Shaheen (DN.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) that seeks to lower the underlying cost of insulin through a yet-to- be defined process.

WHY IS INSULIN SO EXPENSIVE?

Lawmakers in the House and Senate are zeroing in on legislation that would lower the price of insulin, reigniting questions about how the cost of this essential medicine was able to skyrocket in the US and remain so high.

While drug companies often argue patients don’t pay the list price for a drug, some patients do have to pay out-of-pocket for drugs until they meet their deductible. Price increases also impact people without insurance.

According to the most recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services, released in 2020, the US pays “dramatically” higher prices for insulin compared to other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

At that time, the US paid $98.70 per standard unit of insulin, while other countries like Canada, Australia and the UK all spent less than $15 per unit.

Read more here.

VARIANTS MAY GIVE RISE TO DIFFERENT LONG-TERM SYMPTOMS: STUDY

A new European study published last week found that different variants of COVID-19 may result in different long COVID-19 symptoms.

The study, which will be presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Lisbon in April, found that the alpha variant of the coronavirus led to muscle aches and pain, insomnia, brain fog, anxiety and depression when compared to the original strain of the virus.

The research conducted by Michele Spinicci and colleagues at the University of Florence and Careggi University Hospital in Italy suggested that people with more severe infections who required immunosuppressant drugs, such as tocilizumab, were six times as likely to report long COVID-19 symptoms, according to the release.

Researchers said they identified substantial change in the pattern of neurological, cognitive and emotional symptoms recorded by patients between March and December 2020, when compared to patients infected between January and April 2021.

Read more here.

Ivermectin does not reduce COVID hospitalizations: study

Ivermectin, the anti-parasitic drug promoted by right wing pundits as a cure for COVID-19, officially does not work, newly published research shows.

A study published on Wednesday found the use of ivermectin to combat COVID-19 did not lead to reduced hospitalization.

In Brazil, 3,515 people participated in a study where a group received ivermectin, a group received a placebo and another group received a different form of treatment for COVID-19.

The study, posted in The New England Journal of Medicine, says the results concluded ivermectin does not lower the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization.

“Treatment with ivermectin did not result in a lower incidence of medical admission to a hospital due to progression of Covid-19 or of prolonged emergency department observation among outpatients with an early diagnosis of Covid-19,” the study states.

The study found in the intention-to-treatment population, 14.7 percent in the ivermectin group had to go to the hospital compared to 16.3 percent in the placebo group.

“The probability that the percentage of patients with a primary-outcome event was lower in the ivermectin group than in the placebo group did not meet the prespecified threshold for superiority in any of these three trial populations,” according to the study.

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Many teens report emotional and physical abuse by parents during lockdown (The New York Times)
  • Despite doctors’ concerns, pharmacists get more leeway to offer treatment with testing (Kaiser Health News)
  • COVID pandemic’s end may bring turbulence for US health care (AP)

STATE BY STATE

  • Mayors from Colorado’s 2 largest cities call for changes to proposed fentanyl bill (CBS4)
  • Minnesota bans poultry sales, exhibitions for 31 days due to H5N1 outbreak (KSTP)
  • Tennessee offers to expand dental schools as Medicaid coverage stretches need (Kaiser Health News/ Nashville Public Radio)

OP EDS IN THE HILL

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Friday.

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