Health Brief: Brady Pushes for Congressional Funding of Insurer Payments

Washington Brief

  • House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady said Congress should immediately provide money to make cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers, which are planning steep premium increases or exiting the Affordable Care Act exchanges because of President Donald Trump’s threat to cut off the funds. (The New York Times)
  • More than a dozen Republican senators are calling on the Trump administration to lift restrictions on short-term health plans that do not contain the same comprehensive list of benefits mandated by Obamacare. (Washington Examiner)
  • In two congressional hearings, Health  and Human Services Secretary Tom Price defended the administration’s proposed cuts to Medicaid and defended its handling of Obamacare. (Kaiser Health News)

Business Brief

  • The Food and Drug Administration is demanding that Endo Pharmaceuticals pull its powerful opioid drug Opana ER from the market. It is the first time the agency has requested the removal of an opioid medication from the market due to “the public health consequences of abuse.” (CNN)
  • U.S. sales of blockbuster prostate-cancer drugs have declined sharply since federal regulators began investigating charities that help patients pay for the drugs. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Washington’s insurance commissioner is blaming the Trump administration for the planned departure of two insurers from the state, which could leave two counties without insurance options for Obamacare plans next year. (CNBC)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Friday
Jefferies Global Health Care Conference 9 a.m.

 

General

Capitol Hill Dems, HHS Secretary Price Trade Jabs On HHS Budget
Rachel Bluth, Kaiser Health News

In back-to-back appearances on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price sparred with Democrats over the Trump administration’s budget cuts for his department and coming troubles in the individual health insurance market. “President Trump’s budget does not confuse government spending with government success,” Price said, defending a spending plan that calls for substantial funding reductions to Medicaid, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other HHS agencies.

Senate GOP finds a new problem for every one resolved on Obamacare repeal
Adam Cancryn et al., Politico

Senate Republicans hoping to get the bulk of an Obamacare repeal bill done within the next few days keep finding a new problem for every old one they get closer to resolving. A burst of optimism that they could agree on a more generous version of the House-passed repeal bill was quickly doused by concerns over the cost.

Senate Republicans consider keeping parts of Obamacare they once promised to kill
Sean Sullivan and Kelsey Snell, The Washington Post

In their effort to revamp the nation’s health-care system, Senate Republicans are considering preserving or more gradually eliminating key elements of the Affordable Care Act that the House voted to discard, creating an uncomfortable political situation for the party after years of promises to fully repeal the law. Senate GOP leadership told rank-and-file Republican senators during private talks this week that they favor keeping guaranteed protections for people with preexisting medical conditions — a departure from the House approach of allowing states to opt out of a regulation ensuring such individuals are not charged more for coverage.

House GOP Leaders Schedule More Health Care Votes
Lindsey McPherson, Roll Call

As the House waits on the Senate to come up with its version of a bill to partially repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, GOP leaders on Thursday announced the chamber would move some health care bills that are part of the third phase of its overhaul strategy. The American Health Care Act (AHCA) that the House passed in May was meant to be one of three phases of the effort because of limitations Republicans face in moving the measure through the budget reconciliation process.

National Institutes of Health to Boost Grants to Young Scientists
Thomas M. Burton, The Wall Street Journal

The National Institutes of Health said it would begin redirecting up to about $1.1 billion in research-grant money a year to early- and midcareer scientists to help boost their careers and preserve U.S. science. The agency said it would begin the redistribution immediately with about $210 million annually, but that the amount would steadily increase over five years to about $1.1 billion a year.

U.K. Vote Sinks Pound; Dollar Rises and Oil Climbs: Markets Wrap
Samuel Potter, Bloomberg News

The pound tumbled as the U.K.’s ruling Conservative Party lost its parliamentary majority, plunging the country into uncertainty days before Brexit negotiations start. Crude advanced and the dollar strengthened.

Payers

A Key Republican Demands Subsidies to Calm Insurance Markets
Robert Pear, The New York Times

A powerful House Republican said Thursday that Congress should immediately provide money for subsidy payments to health insurance companies, which have been demanding big rate increases or fleeing from Affordable Care Act markets because of President Trump’s threat to cut off the funds. The Republican, Kevin Brady of Texas, who is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, went out of his way to make clear that he now believes that Congress should continue the subsidies, which compensate insurers for reducing deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for seven million low-income people.

GOP senators urge change to short-term insurance
Kimberly Leonard, Washington Examiner

Republican senators on Thursday urged Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to reverse an Obama-era regulation that places restrictions on short-term health insurance plans. The plans do not contain the same comprehensive list of benefits mandated by Obamacare, instead allowing people to choose what they want covered.

Obamacare insurers abandon two counties in Washington state, insurance commissioner blames Trump administration
Dan Mangan, CNBC

The insurance commissioner of Washington state blamed the Trump administration Thursday for the planned departure of two insurers from the state, where two counties will be left without options for Obamacare plans next year. Washington residents next year also will have less than half the number of individual health plans that they can now buy both on and outside of the state’s Obamacare insurance exchange.

Sen. Heller supports seven-year phase-out of Medicaid expansion funds
Peter Sullivan, The Hill

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), a key GOP senator on healthcare who is up for reelection next year, said Thursday that he supports a seven-year phase-out of funding for ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid. “I support seven, I support seven,” Heller told reporters on his way into a healthcare working group meeting in the Capitol. “So do a number of us, including [Sen. Rob] Portman [R-Ohio] and others who have been working on this.”

Quantity Over Quality? Minorities Shown To Get An Excess Of Ineffective Care
Michelle Andrews, Kaiser Health News

Minority patients face a double whammy: Not only are they more likely to miss out on effective medical treatments than white patients, but, according to a new study, they’re also more likely to receive an abundance of ineffective services.

Providers

HCA to offer new debt to fund planned acquisitions
Alex Kacik, Modern Healthcare

HCA on Thursday announced it would offer new debt to help fund several hospital acquisitions, including its $725 million buyout of three Tenet Healthcare Corp. hospitals in Houston. The Nashville-based system proposed to offer senior secured notes due in 2047 but did not disclose terms of the offering.

Pharma, Biotech and Devices

FDA wants opioid painkiller pulled off market
Jen Christensen, CNN

The US Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that drugmaker Endo Pharmaceuticals must remove its powerful opioid painkiller Opana ER from the market. The agency says this the first time it has asked that an opioid pain medication be pulled due to “the public health consequences of abuse.”

U.S. Probe Sheds Light on Charities’ Role in Boosting Drug Sales
Jonathan D. Rockoff, The Wall Street Journal

U.S. sales of blockbuster prostate-cancer drugs have dropped sharply since the start of a federal investigation into charities that help patients pay for these drugs, a sign of how much the pharmaceutical industry relies on these foundations to support revenue. Drugmakers donate hundreds of millions of dollars a year to charities that help U.S. patients cover out-of-pocket costs for drugs.

Valeant sells drug subsidiary to private equity for $930 million
Bob Herman, Axios

Beleaguered drug company Valeant Pharmaceuticals has agreed to sell one of its subsidiaries, iNova Pharmaceuticals, to private-equity firms Pacific Equity Partners and The Carlyle Group for $930 million. The Australian-based iNova makes a slew of over-the-counter and prescription drugs.

Cancer Drug Proves to Be Effective Against Multiple Tumors
Gina Kolata, The New York Times

The 86 cancer patients were a disparate group, with tumors of the pancreas, prostate, uterus or bone. One woman had a cancer so rare there were no tested treatments.

Health IT

How technology upgrades sparked a financial resurgence at two rural hospitals
Evan Sweeney, Fierce Healthcare

On his second day as CEO of Coteau des Prairies (CDP) Health Care System in Sisseton, South Dakota, Michael Coyle had to borrow $500,000 to make payroll. That was just the start of the hospital’s financial struggles.

A Message from PhRMA:

It is estimated that there will be more than 6,000 cancer deaths in 2017, but a new report looks at the future of treating this devastating group of diseases. Today, there are more than 240 immuno-oncology medicines and vaccines in development. Learn more.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Drug Data Belongs in the Hands of Physicians and Patients
Angus Worthing, Morning Consult 

With five therapies already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and with more than 60 in development, the term “biosimilars” will be seen and heard much more frequently in the U.S. health care system throughout the next decade. So what exactly are biosimilars?

Uh oh, Health Care Edition
David Leonhardt, The New York Times

James Comey’s testimony today will reveal President Trump’s blatant disregard for the rule of law, and Nick Kristof’s column offers an excellent preview. I realize it will be hard to pay attention to any other political story this week, but I urge you to find the extra attention span, because there is another important, disturbing story developing: The chances of the Senate taking away health insurance from millions of people seem to be rising.

A Message from PhRMA:

248 Immuno-Oncology Treatments in Development: A new report takes a closer look at immune-oncology and how these treatments can help unleash a patient’s own immune system against cancer, with the potential for lasting results. Today, more than 4.8 percent of the U.S. population is cancer survivors, and America’s biopharmaceutical companies are committed to continuing the search for new cancer treatments and potential cures for patients. Check out the report.

Research Reports

For Selected Services, Blacks And Hispanics More Likely To Receive Low-Value Care Than Whites
William L. Schpero et al., Health Affairs

US minority populations receive fewer effective health services than whites. Using Medicare administrative data for 2006–11, we found no consistent, corresponding protection against the receipt of ineffective health services.

Why GE, Boeing, Lowe’s, and Walmart Are Directly Buying Health Care for Employees
Jonathan R. Slotkin et al., Havard Business Review

Bundled payments in health care have gained favor because they can reduce costs and help improve outcomes. In essence, episodic bundles cover the cost of a patient’s care from start to finish—all the procedures, devices, tests, drugs and services a patient will need for, say, a knee replacement or back surgery.