HealthCare Roundtable e-News – November 6, 2019

15th Annual Roundtable Conference Opens Tonight
The Roundtable’s highly-regarded annual conference opens tonight at the Alexandrian Hotel in Old Town Alexandria. 

The theme for this year’s conference is “Addressing Challenges, Seizing Opportunities: Navigating a Dynamic Washington Health Policy Environment.”

Click here for this year’s Conference Agenda

Senate Republicans and Democrats Clash on ‘Patent Thicket’ Drug Pricing Reforms Bill

Senate Republicans and Democrats are clashing over the Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act of 2019, which would authorize the Federal Trade Commission to sue drug companies engaging in anti-competitive behaviors such as patent thickening. According to projections from the Congressional Budget Office, if enacted the bill would lower federal spending by $507 million over a decade. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the bill in June, but it has since been blocked by Democrat Senators looking for assurances from GOP leadership that more comprehensive legislation aimed at drug costs will be considered. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to commit to bringing up either a Senate Finance Committee drug package or a HELP Committee bill to lower health care costs. 

“I think the rationale is they want it to be part of the larger prescription drug bill,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said. “But given the uncertainty of impeachment and the schedule, I’d like to go ahead and get this done since it has bipartisan support and I think it would actually do some good.” 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a co-sponsor of the bill, suggested that the resistance between the two parties was due to miscommunication and that the pair is looking to determine a solution in the coming weeks.

CMS Administrator Verma Testifies to House E&C Oversight Committee on Lack of ACA Replacement Plan

Last Wednesday (Oct. 23), during a House Energy & Commerce Oversight Subcommittee hearing, Democrats grilled CMS Administrator Seema Verma for answers on the uncertain future of Obamacare, and the negative consequences its repeal may have for millions of Americans. Although Verma declined to answer how many people would lose insurance if the ACA is struck down, Representative Diana DeGette estimated the number to be around 21 million. (InsideHealthPolicy) 

Throughout the hearing, Committee members voiced their concerns with the lack of a concrete back-up plan if the ACA is repealed. Verma deflected many of the committee’s questions and often referred back to the cost-savings the administration has achieved. 

During the hearing, Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) addressed Verma stating, “You have no plan, you can’t produce a document, you can’t give us detail, you’re skirting the issues and all we are getting are talking points.”

Verma countered by stating, “We have a plan for a number of different scenarios, but we need to hear from the courts. The president has made this commitment clear that he wants to make sure people with preexisting conditions have protections.”

Amendment Supporting Biosimilar Reimbursements Passes House Energy & Commerce Markup

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee added an amendment to The Lower Drug Costs Now Act to temporarily increase Medicare Part B reimbursements for biosimilars. The bill, which aims to lower prescription drug costs by giving the federal government the ability to negotiate the price based on an international pricing index, was previously passed by the Education and Labor Committee.

The policy was initially introduced as a separate bill, the Bolstering Innovative Options to Save Immediately on Medicines (BIOSIM) Act, last month and is currently the only amendment adopted by the Energy & Commerce Committee during the markup. Biosimilar manufacturers and stakeholders shared their enthusiasm for the amendment’s acceptance. (InsideHealthPolicy)

“This is a major step forward and the fact it was the only amendment adopted underscores why biosimilars are a clear, recognized and bipartisan solution to reducing drug costs for patients and taxpayers,” said Juliana Reed, the president of the Biosimilars Forum. (InsideHealthPolicy).

The bill, which was sponsored by Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), is expected to be marked up by The House Ways and Means Committee later this week with a full House vote later this month, according to reports.

Senate Still Working on Surprise Billing Compromise After Industry Meeting

Senators and industry stakeholders met last Tuesday (Oct. 22) to discuss a compromise on surprise billing legislation, which has stalled in recent months over the inclusion of arbitration in the policy. While surprise billing legislation has received much bipartisan support since the bill’s passing by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee earlier this year, the session ended without a solution. However, lawmakers, are still hopeful that the groups will come to an agreement on the bill before the end of the year. (InsideHealthPolicy) 

“The difference between now and this summer is that we’re closer to the end of the year and there’s a hardcore contingent in the Senate and House that want to get something done,” said a lobbyist who attended the group session. (InsideHealthPolicy) 

During the meeting, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) sought to win over opponents of arbitration by attempting to draw a distinction between his proposal and the arbitration amendment introduced by Reps. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). Based on an internal email from the Congressional Budget Office, Ruiz and Roe’s plan would cost tens of billions of dollars, but Cassidy’s would save $20 billion over 10 years.