HealthCare Roundtable e-News – January 26, 2022

Biden, Democrats to Pursue Breaking Up Build Back Better Provisions in Order to Pass Reconciliation

In a press conference last Wednesday (Jan. 19), President Biden shared that his party will likely pursue passing a smaller, paired-down version of the Democrats’ reconciliation package after failed negotiations with moderate party members. The president shared during the conference that passing the parts was more likely than getting the whole, explaining that he’ll be working with party members to pass “chunks” of the passage.

Moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) declared before the new year he would not be able to support the reconciliation package in its current form, leading other members of the party to reconsider how they might be able to move pieces of the bill forward. Despite his opposition to the bill, Manchin did share his support for some provisions of the package, including legislation that would give Medicare power to negotiate drug prices. Manchin also expressed support in extending the re-structured ACA tax credits for impoverished Americans and eliminating the subsidy cliff that blocked the financial assistance for people earning more than four times the poverty level. (InsideHealthPolicy)

When asked about what the president meant by “chunks,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that she hopes what the president meant “would be a major bill, going forward…it may be more limited, but it is still significant.” Other Democrats have also shown their support for this approach where the party is limited in the number of budget reconciliation bills they can use, and the process itself is a long one. (InsideHealthPolicy)

New CBO Report Finds Net Price of Brand Drugs Have Increased Over 10 Years

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released new research uncovering how much Americans spent on brand drug prices and, notably, the stark increases in price over the past 10 years. According to the CBO report, the average net price of brand drugs rose from $149 to $353 within Medicare Part D and from $147 to $218 within Medicaid.

Prescriptions drugs continue to become less and less affordable, as rising drug costs also exacerbate health disparities, according to a separate report that HHS released last week. The report claims that roughly 5 million beneficiaries had trouble affording prescription drugs in 2019, with Black and Latino beneficiaries over the age of 65 being up to twice as likely as White beneficiaries in the same age group to report difficulty affording drugs. Beneficiaries under 65 reported higher rates of affordability issues than older beneficiaries. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Additionally, the report confirmed that consumers’ use of prescription drugs has increased over time, with greater use of generic drugs being a key factor in that increase. However, while generics have slowed the growth in drug spending, the power of deflationary generic drug prices to curb the growth of overall drug costs may be weakening, according to research from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission unveiled earlier this month. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Generics and Biosimilars Are Curbing Drug Spending but Losing Power to Restrain Drug Costs, says MedPAC

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) members convened earlier this month to discuss new research showing how deflationary generic drug prices have been curbing the growth of overall drug costs in recent years. However, research from the commission also determined that low generic prices might be less effective at restraining future drug costs.

According to the commission, generic drug prices dropped 13.7% from 2006 to 2018, 11% from 2018 to 2019, and 9.3% from 2019 through 2020. The research indicated that deflation in generic prices offset increases in brand drug prices and kept overall drug spending growth low, but the power generics hold to keep spending low is weakening.

The commission also cited that while generics and biosimilars will be crucial to combating increasing drug spending, Part D faces several barriers to introducing competition, like the common practice amongst drug makers of delaying generic and biosimilar competition by using rebate walls. Many Part D plans benefit from post-sale rebates that stem from drugs with higher prices, and both rebates and pharmacy fees operate in a way that leads to misaligned program incentives. (InsideHealthPolicy)

HHS to Grant $103M from American Rescue Plan For Mental Health Initiatives Among Healthcare Professionals

Last Thursday (Jan. 20), HHS revealed that the agency would be designating $103 million from the American Rescue Plan to help combat spiking rates of mental illness and burnout for health care providers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. According to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson, the funds will be used to support providers, particularly in underserved and rural communities.

“This funding reflects the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to ensuring we have enough critical frontline workers by supporting health care providers now and beyond as they face burnout and mental health challenges,” Becerra said. “We will continue to promote the well-being of those who have made so many sacrifices to keep others well.” (InsideHealthPolicy)

The funding will be split into three different award funds; according to Johnson, HRSA is awarding $28.6 million to 10 grantees to help healthcare organizations enhance their practices to promote mental health and well-being among the health workforce, including their employees. In the second allotment, $68.2 million is being awarded to 34 grantees to support tailored evidence-informed training development within healthcare and nursing training activities. The third award of $6 million is going to George Washington University to provide tailored training and technical assistance.

The decision to boost funding supporting the well-being of healthcare workers comes as Omicron continues to ravage through the U.S. According to HHS, more than 850 million people have died from COVID-19, and as hospitalizations increase for the second winter of the pandemic, providers are facing burnout so severe that some health care workers are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Rates of Uninsured Americans Dips in New CDC Quarterly Estimates as ACA Sees Record Enrollments

Last week, the Biden Administration announced a drop in the uninsured rate in the third quarter of 2021 compared to the same quarter in 2020, indicated by data collected from the Centers for Disease and Prevention. The data points in the agency’s quarterly estimates show how the rate for all Americans dipped from 9.7% to 8.9% during the period, with the rate for Americans under the age of 65 falling from 11.5% to 10.7% in the same timeframe.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said that the data from the report was “welcome news” noting that the important reduction in the uninsured in working-age, low-income Americans. Becerra also noted that the report indicates that more Americans across the country “are gaining access to quality and affordable health care than ever before, which is particularly critical during this pandemic.”

The CDC’s report comes on the heels of record-breaking enrollment in the ACA coverage that the agency announced last week. In the statement, Becerra emphasized that about 5 million people have gained coverage since the Biden administration took office, including 2.8 million who came in through the six-month special enrollment period. (InsideHealthPolicy)