Health Brief: McConnell Says Bill to Bolster Marketplaces Needed If ACA Repeal Fails

Washington Brief

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Congress would need to pass a bill to shore up the nation’s insurance marketplaces if the Republican effort to overhaul the Affordable Care Act fails. (The Associated Press)
  • Republican Sen. John Hoeven said he opposes the Senate health care legislation as it currently stands. The North Dakotan is at least the 10th GOP senator to withhold support. (CNN)
  • Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a key conservative voice in Senate negotiations on health care, said one reason the GOP is struggling to repeal and replace Obamacare is because most Republicans didn’t think President Donald Trump would win the 2016 presidential election. (The Washington Post)

Business Brief

  • The rate that opioid painkillers are being prescribed has declined in recent years, a sign that efforts to limit access are working, according to a government analysis. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • A trade group representing generic drugmakers filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging Maryland’s new prescription drug price gouging law. (The Baltimore Sun)
  • UnitedHealth Group Inc. could buy Advisory Board Co.’s health care division in a deal with Vista Equity Partners to acquire and split up the consulting firm. (Bloomberg News)

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Events Calendar (All Times Local)

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McConnell says limited bill needed if GOP health bill dies
Bruce Schreiner and Alan Fram, The Associated Press

A bill focused on buttressing the nation’s insurance marketplaces will be needed if the full-fledged Republican effort to repeal much of President Barack Obama’s health care law fails, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday. It was one of his most explicit acknowledgments that his party’s top-priority drive to erase much of Obama’s landmark 2010 statutes might fall short.

GOP Sen. John Hoeven comes out against health care bill
David Wright, CNN

Sen. John Hoeven is the latest Republican senator to come out against party leaders’ plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, sharing his reservations at a roundtable in North Dakota this week. According to the Bismarck Tribune, Hoeven participated in a discussion at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine on Wednesday.

Moran gets an earful on Obamacare repeal at town hall
Seung Min Kim, Politico

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) on Thursday rattled off a litany of concerns with the Senate GOP plan to dismantle Obamacare, stressing to an overflow crowd in this tiny rural town that he would not support the existing draft as written. During a town hall in this largely conservative area, Moran called it “troublesome” that Kansas, which did not expand Medicaid under Obamacare, would under the GOP plan have to help shoulder the entitlement’s costs in states that did.

One reason the GOP health bill is a mess: No one thought Trump would win
Paul Kane, The Washington Post

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey offered a simple, remarkable explanation this week for why Republicans have struggled so mightily to find a way to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “Look, I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win. I think most of my colleagues didn’t, so we didn’t expect to be in this situation,” the Pennsylvania Republican said Wednesday night during a meeting with voters hosted by four network affiliates across his state.

Republicans try to shift health-care blame back to Democrats
David Weigel, The Washington Post

To state the obvious: Partisan video clips are not designed to make the other party look good. There’s an art to these things.

GOP activists put Congress on notice: Repeal Obamacare or get voted out
Katie Glueck, McClatchy

Frustration is mounting among Republican activists over the GOP’s continued failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, with grassroots groups now warning of consequences for lawmakers in the 2018 elections if the Senate doesn’t reach a deal soon. “Activists, real grassroots people, are absolutely disappointed, and to some point I’d say devastated, over what we feel like is a broken promise,” said Donald Bryson, the state director of the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, an influential conservative group backed by the Koch brothers.

Cruz calls for ‘clean repeal’ of ACA if Senate talks fall apart — aligning him with Trump, not McConnell
Sean Sullivan, The Washington Post

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said Thursday that he agrees with President Trump: If Republican senators are unable to pass a bill to repeal and replace key parts of the Affordable Care Act, the Senate should vote on a narrower bill to simply repeal the law and work on a replacement later. “If we cannot bring the conference together and agree on repeal legislation, then I think President Trump’s absolutely right that we should pass a clean repeal,” Cruz told reporters.

Rand and Donald’s wild health care ride
Burgess Everett and Josh Dawsey, Politico

After a bitter rivalry during the 2016 presidential campaign, Sen. Rand Paul and President Donald Trump just can’t quit each other. And they are teaming up to confound everyone in Washington on the GOP’s attempts to repeal Obamacare. After Paul dubbed candidate Trump an “orange-faced windbag” and Trump questioned whether candidate Paul had a “properly functioning brain,” the two have begun to build a strong relationship.

Drop in cancer deaths in rural America slower than urban areas: CDC
Natalie Grover, Reuters

Cancer deaths in America’s rural areas are not falling as much as they are in urban areas even though the total deaths from the disease are dropping across the country, a U.S health agency report showed, emphasizing the gap in access to healthcare. Cancer accounted for 180 deaths per 100,000 persons in rural areas annually compared with 158 deaths in urban areas, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released on Thursday.

Yields Stay Higher; Stocks Drop Before Jobs Data: Markets Wrap
Adam Haigh and Robert Brand, Bloomberg News

Bond yields stayed elevated after a sell-off in debt this week stoked by a number of central banks stepping up talk of tighter policy conditions. The yen slumped to an eight-week low after the Bank of Japan reinforced its cap on the nation’s 10-year rates.


UnitedHealth, Vista Said Near Deal to Split Advisory Board
Alex Sherman et al., Bloomberg News

UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Vista Equity Partners are nearing a deal to acquire and split up the health and education consultant Advisory Board Co., according to people familiar with the matter. UnitedHealth would acquire Advisory Board’s health-care division and Vista would buy its education business, said the people, who asked not to be named because discussions are private.

Aetna threatens to exit Illinois Medicaid over budget crisis
Kristen Schorsch, Crain’s Chicago Business

Aetna Better Health, which the state of Illinois owes at least $698 million, has had enough. The subsidiary of the national insurance giant has given the state notice that it plans to terminate its Medicaid contracts, Aetna spokesman T.J. Crawford wrote today in an email.

How the Senate health bill became ‘Obamacare lite’
Paul Demko, Politico

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell famously promised to rip out Obamacare “root and branch,” a sentiment echoed by Republicans on the campaign trail for seven years. But Obamacare is proving harder to eradicate than kudzu, and Republicans may be stuck with major parts of Barack Obama’s legacy.

Don’t Expect Health Coverage If You Survive a Gunshot Wound
Suzanne Woolley, Bloomberg News

Among gunshot survivors, 51-year-old House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is an outlier. Such victims are more likely to be low-earning black men between the ages of 15 and 24.


S.C. hospital to pay $1.3 million for not properly treating emergency psych patients
Harris Meyer, Modern Healthcare

AnMed Health in South Carolina has agreed to pay the largest-ever settlement in a case brought under the federal law requiring hospitals to stabilize and treat patients in emergency situations. The not-for-profit, three-hospital AnMed system will pay nearly $1.3 million to settle federal allegations that in 2012 and 2013 it held patients with unstable psychiatric conditions in its emergency department without providing appropriate psychiatric treatment in 36 incidents.

Pharma, Biotech and Devices

Opioid Prescription Rate in U.S. Declines, But CDC Says It Remains Elevated
Betsy McKay, The Wall Street Journal

Opioid painkillers are prescribed far less often in the U.S. than a few years ago, showing that moves to limit their availability are having a positive effect, federal researchers said in an analysis released Thursday. But the amount of opioids prescribed in 2015 was still more than triple the level in 1999, and varied widely by county, according to the analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—illustrating how ubiquitous the drugs still are.

Drug firms challenge Maryland price-gouging law
Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun

Drug companies asked a federal judge on Thursday to throw out Maryland’s new prescription drug price gouging law, saying the state’s first-in-the-nation measure is both unconstitutional and vague. A trade association representing generic drug firms filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Thursday challenging the law, which takes effect in October and allows Attorney General Brian E. Frosh to prosecute some manufacturers that impose “unconscionable” price hikes.

Rare-Disease Drugmakers Join in Worries Over GOP Health Overhaul
Doni Bloomfield, Bloomberg News

The Republican health-care bill that’s already encountering stiff opposition from hospitals, doctors, and patients now has another group worried: rare-disease drugmakers and the patients who need those high-priced treatments. The proposal, which the Senate could vote on as soon as next week, would give states leeway to allow the return of health coverage caps — called lifetime limits — that were banned under Obamacare.

Endo gives in to FDA demand and agrees to yank its opioid painkiller
Ed Silverman, Stat News

In the end, the executive team at Endo International blinked. The drug maker has voluntarily agreed to withdraw its Opana ER opioid painkiller in response to an unusual request last month from the Food and Drug Administration over concerns the pill is too easily abused.

Health IT

Google DeepMind, NHS partnership violated patient privacy
Evan Sweeney, Fierce Healthcare

A landmark partnership between the National Health Service and Google’s artificial intelligence software violated patient privacy laws, according to British regulators. An investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office indicated the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust failed to comply with the country’s Data Protection Act when it handed over personal data for 1.6 million patients to Google DeepMind in a five-year partnership officially announced last November.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Health Care Bill Should Serve Those Who Need It Most
Sharad Lakhanpal and Ann M. Palmer, Morning Consult

As Senate leaders prepare to vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, doctors and patients across the nation are urging our elected officials to pass a health care bill they can believe in — one that truly makes insurance coverage affordable and accessible to those who need it most. One particular group of Americans — the 1 in 4 U.S. adults who live with arthritis and other rheumatologic diseases — has a lot riding on the Senate’s actions in the days ahead.

Time for Republicans to Start From Scratch on Health Care
Peter Suderman, The New York Times

If the halting, messy debate over legislation to overhaul health care has taught us anything so far, it’s that when it comes to health care, Republicans don’t know what they want, much less how to get it. After years of campaigning on the promise of repealing the Affordable Care Act, when it finally came time to act, Republicans put together a plan that looks like a stingier, skimpier version of Obamacare in the individual market, plus a rollback of the law’s Medicaid expansion (delayed until after the next presidential election — long enough that it might not happen).

A worthy legacy of the Ebola catastrophe
The Editorial Board, The Washington Post

One of the most disturbing lessons to emerge from the Ebola virus disease epidemic in West Africa in 2014-2015 was how unprepared the world was for it. David Nabarro, special adviser to the U.N. secretary general, told a Senate panel recently that the virus was missed in late 2013 and played down in 2014, even in July of that year when numbers of cases were doubling every three weeks.

Research Reports

Long-Term Estimate: Senate Health Care Bill Could Save $2.1 Trillion Over 20 Years
Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the Senate health care bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), would save $321 billion over ten years. But what about the long term?