HealthCare Roundtable e-News – June 18, 2019

Senate Health Committee Expected to Host Hearing This Week on Bipartisan Healthcare Package

The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee is preparing to hold a hearing this week to discuss drug pricing and health costs legislation put forward by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.). The key points in the package will likely address improving drug pricing transparency and tackling health costs involved with surprise medical bills.

Alexander stated that he is hopeful the Senate will be able to vote on the package next month, perhaps in conjunction with the developing Senate Finance Committee’s bipartisan health package that aims to improve prescription drug affordability.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is also revising a portion of her plan to address drug prices; a previous proposal from Democratic leaders only included allowing Medicare negotiations for 25 drugs, which progressives concluded was not enough. Pelosi has revised the number of drugs referenced in the plan to 250, though it’s still unclear which drugs will be eligible for direct negotiation.

Trump Administration’s Final Rebate Rule Being Reviewed by OMB

The White House Office of Management and Budget is set to review a final rule on the elimination of rebates from Medicare Part D and Medicaid drug programs. CMS had previously stated that the rule would not be finalized before the June 3rd deadline this year, though there is a good chance the agency will be able to implement the new system by 2020.

In a letter to HHS, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) wrote that the rebate rule “will do more to lower list prices and patients’ out-of-pocket expenses than any other policy currently under consideration.” HELP Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) had previously backed the draft rebate proposal but left rebate changes out of the drug pricing package he developed with ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

A draft of the rule released earlier this year noted that Federal spending would likely increase as much as $196B over ten years, with the latest analysis from the Congressional Budget Office suggesting an increase of $177B, primarily to Medicare.

Policymakers Stick to Partisan Agenda in Ways & Means Hearing on Expanding Government Healthcare

The House Ways & Means Committee held its first hearing last week (June 12) on potential pathways to expanding government healthcare, including proposals for universal healthcare. Committee Democrats brought in policy experts from the Kaiser Family Foundation and Manatt Health, a former CMS administrator and the CEO of the Washington state exchange to talk up the benefits of expanding government healthcare, and Republicans invited Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute, one of the key drivers behind Rick Santorum’s Affordable Care Act replacement plan, to discuss the potential downsides of healthcare expansion. (InsideHealthPolicy).

Ways & Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) emphasized that he saw the hearing as “the beginning of a process” in discussing policy proposals to expand healthcare. The hearing saw mostly partisan support and criticism; several lawmakers used the hearing as an opportunity to discuss Medicare and Medicaid buy-ins, while others criticized healthcare expansion and railed single-payer healthcare approaches for what they claimed would lead to irreparable harm to patients and the economy. (InsideHealthPolicy).

“We will not stand by and let Democrats seize your healthcare, your choice, and your control over life-and-death health decisions under Medicare for All,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the ranking member on the committee. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) later addressed Republicans’ disapproval, stating that the party’s condemnation of Medicare for All “continues a great Republican tradition of opposing Medicare for anyone.”

White House Approves Employer-Funded HRA Rule

The House Ways & Means Committee is expected to hold a hearing this Wednesday (June 12) on coverage expansion options, including Medicare for All. Notably, W&M is the first committee to hold hearings on progressive health policy, and the hearing itself will also be the third time in the past month that a House committee has examined single-payer policy opportunities. 

The committee will also consider options for expanding government-run healthcare, although there are no material policies expected to be reviewed at this time. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a co-sponsor of the House Medicare for All bill, told reporters she hopes to secure “as many Medicare for All-related witnesses as possible.” (InsideHealthPolicy) 

Asked about the hearing, Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said, “I’m pleased. We asked that Chairman Neal hold a hearing on Medicare for All because it is so devastating for the good health care plans that people get at work, as well as ending CHIP and Medicare advantage that 20 million seniors rely on.”

Pharma Companies Sue Trump Administration Over Drug Pricing Requirements in TV Ads

Top industry players have filed a lawsuit against a recent rule from the Trump administration requiring drug makers to include drug prices in direct-to-consumer TV advertisements. The drug manufacturers suing HHS include Amgen, Merck, and Eli Lilly, and were joined by the Association of National Advertisers in claiming that the rule violates freedom of speech, in addition to discouraging patients from seeking treatments due to somewhat-irrelevant drug costs.

“Not only does the rule raise serious freedom of speech concerns, it mandates an approach that fails to account for differences among insurance, treatments, and patients themselves, by requiring disclosure of list price,” Amgen said in a statement. HHS spokesperson Caitlyn Oakley responded to the drug companies’ claims, stating that “if the drug companies are embarrassed by their prices or afraid that the prices will scare patients away, they should lower them.”

After finalizing the rule last month, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said, “We are telling drug companies today: You’ve got to level with people [about] what your drugs cost…Put it in the TV ads. Patients have a right to know, and if you’re ashamed of your drug prices, change your drug prices. It’s that simple.”