Health Brief: Price Health Stock Trades Draw Criticism

By Mary Ellen McIntire

Morning Consult Health will be off for the holidays. Publication of the morning email brief and afternoon news ticker will resume on Jan. 3.

Today’s Washington Brief

  • Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) traded more than $300,000 in health care stocks in the last four years, during which time he sponsored health care-related legislation. While the move has drawn criticism, lawmakers are not barred from holding in shares in companies, though Price would have to give up the shares if confirmed as Health and Human Services Secretary in the Trump administration. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Republicans are counting on the Trump administration to roll back the Affordable Care Act’s essential health benefits. Defenders of the law say they fear for areas like mental health coverage and contraception. (Bloomberg News)
  • Democrats are urging President-elect Trump to focus on lowering drug prices once he takes office, but Republicans could use the issue to seek Democrats’ participation in crafting an Obamacare replacement. (Reuters)

Today’s Business Brief

  • Pharmaceutical companies and law firms representing them have hired more than three dozen former top Drug Enforcement Administration officials since 2005, raising questions about whether firms sought to poach the people forming the agency’s response to the growing opioid epidemic. (The Washington Post)
  • Obamacare insurers are set to see continued improvement next year, a new S&P report suggests. But potential policy changes going forward makes it difficult to predict what could happen in 2018 and going forward. (CNBC)
  • Aetna and Humana once again extended their merger deadline until Feb. 15, giving themselves additional time to gain regulatory approval. (Modern Healthcare)

Today’s Chart Review

Who Gained Health Insurance Coverage Under the ACA, and Where Do They Live?
Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Mark Your Calendars (All Eastern Times)

Friday
No events scheduled

 

General

Donald Trump’s Pick for Health Secretary Traded Medical Stocks While in House
James V. Grimaldi and Michelle Hackman, The Wall Street Journal

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to run the Health and Human Services Department traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies over the past four years while sponsoring and advocating legislation that potentially could affect those companies’ stocks. Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, bought and sold stock in about 40 health-care, pharmaceutical and biomedical companies since 2012, including a dozen in the current congressional session, according to a Wall Street Journal review of hundreds of pages of stock trades he filed with Congress.

Drug Stock Trades of Trump Health Secretary Pick Draw Criticism
Kerry Dooley Young, Roll Call

President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be Health and Human Services secretary sold shares of once high-flying biotech company Gilead Sciences Inc. in March while buying those of marquee drugmakers including Pfizer Inc. and Eli Lilly & Co. They are among the latest trades reported by Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican who’s long been an investor in medical stocks, according to congressional filings.

Drug industry hired dozens of officials from the DEA as the agency tried to curb opioid abuse
Scott Higham et. al., The Washington Post

Pharmaceutical companies that manufacture or distribute highly addictive pain pills have hired dozens of officials from the top levels of the Drug Enforcement Administration during the past decade, according to a Washington Post investigation. The hires came after the DEA launched an aggressive campaign to curb a rising opioid epidemic that has resulted in thousands of overdose deaths each year.

CDC sends $184 million in Zika funding to states as Texas reports new case
Lena H. Sun, The Washington Post

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is awarding nearly $200 million in Zika funding to states and territories to continue the fight against the mosquito-borne virus as Texas reported a new local case, officials announced Thursday. The money, approved earlier this year by Congress as part of the emergency response to Zika, is aimed at helping local communities at greatest risk.

Europe Stocks Halt Drop as Italian Aid Lifts Bonds: Markets Wrap
Cecile Gutscher and Benjamin Purvis

European stocks halted two days of declines, and Italy’s bonds climbed as the nation decided pledged to provide support for its ailing lenders. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index held this month’s 5.3 percent rally that has taken it within 1.6 percent of wiping out its losses for the year.

Payers

Trump could quickly doom ACA cost-sharing subsidies for millions of Americans
Amy Goldstein, The Washington Post

Even without Congress repealing the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration could undermine the law by unilaterally ending billions of dollars the government pays insurers to subsidize the health coverage of nearly 6 million Americans. Given that insurers would still be required to provide consumers that financial help, such a move could create upheaval in the ACA’s marketplaces — prompting health plans to raise their prices or drop out, according to health-policy experts in both major political parties.

Health insurers will do better with Obamacare results in 2016 — and even better next year, new projection says
Dan Mangan, CNBC

There could be a light at the end of a dark tunnel for Obamacare insurers. Health insurers may finally be seeing improved results on their Obamacare plans just as a newly elected president is poised to follow through on promises to end the controversial coverage program, a new report suggests.

GOP Wants Trump to Trim Obamacare Benefits, Say Congress Aides
Anna Edney et. al., Bloomberg News

Facing a years-long wait before they can fully implement a planned repeal of Obamacare, Republicans lawmakers are exploring how the Trump administration can quickly trim required health insurance benefits under the law and lower the cost of health plans, said key GOP congressional aides. Republicans plan to use a fast-track procedure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but with a built-in delay to postpone full repeal for years while they navigate the complexities of passing a replacement.

If Republicans Repeal Health Law, How Will They Pay For Replacement?
Julie Rovner, Kaiser Health News

Leading Republicans have vowed that even if they repeal most of the Affordable Care Act early in 2017, a replacement will not hurt those currently receiving benefits. Republicans will seek to ensure that “no one is worse off,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in an interview with a Wisconsin newspaper earlier this month.

Burwell says Obamacare is uncertain beyond 2017
Paige Winfield Cunningham, The Washington Examiner

Republicans have given plenty of indication that Obamacare will continue in 2017, but beyond that is a “different concern,” outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said Thursday. Burwell urged people to keep enrolling in marketplace plans offered through the Affordable Care Act, in an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd.

Aetna and Humana extend merger deadline again
Shelby Livingston, Modern Healthcare

Health insurers Aetna and Humana have extended their merger deadline, giving the companies until Feb. 15 to obtain regulatory approval. They filed notice of the extension a day after the trial ended in the U.S. Justice Department’s bid to block the $37 billion deal.

Providers

Medicare offers hospitals cash to rev up cardiac rehab participation
Elizabeth Whitman, Modern Healthcare

After patients have a heart attack or heart surgery, interventional cardiologist Dr. Amit Keswani urges them to go into cardiac rehabilitation. The program of supervised exercise and counseling helps cardiac patients recover and lowers their risk of future heart attacks, chest pain, hospital admission and a slew of other medical problems.

Pharma, Biotech & Device

Teva to pay U.S. government $519 million over foreign bribery charges
Joel Schectman and Natalie Grover, Reuters

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries agreed to pay more than $519 million to settle U.S. criminal and civil allegations that the company bribed overseas officials to gain business for its medications, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Thursday. The company paid millions of dollars in bribes to officials in Mexico, Russia and Ukraine to promote its products such as its blockbuster multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone, the Justice Department said.

Democrats lean on drug pricing as Obamacare repeal looms
Susan Cornwell and Caroline Humer, Reuters

Democrats are showing little interest in cooperating with the Republicans who control Congress on legislation to dismantle the Obamacare health insurance law but some are signaling a willingness to collaborate on action to curb rising drug prices. Republican U.S. President-elect Donald Trump pledged two weeks ago to bring down drug prices, addressing an issue that could appeal to voters in both parties.

In Cancer Trials, a Lopsided Shot at Hope for Minorities
Denise Grady, The New York Times

Like a man on a flying trapeze, K.T. Jones has leapt from one medical study to another during his 15-year struggle with cancer, and he has no doubt that the experimental treatments he has received have saved his life. Mr. Jones, 45, has an aggressive type of Hodgkin’s lymphoma that resists the usual therapies.

J&J’s Decision to Walk Away Set Stage for Renewed Actelion Talks
Manuel Baigorri et. al., Bloomberg News

Johnson & Johnson’s willingness to walk away from talks to acquire Swiss biotechnology company Actelion Ltd. for about $28 billion is the very thing that got the two sides back to the negotiating table. This week, amid rising pressure from shareholders, Actelion surprised investors and re-entered negotiations with J&J, which signaled a willingness to raise its offer if granted exclusivity, said people familiar with the matter.

Health IT

Patient health record makeover: Digital biographies
Evan Sweeney, Fierce Healthcare

Physicians are quick to point out the inefficiencies of electronic health records (EHRs) and patients don’t always have easy access to the full scope of their health information. One solution: Digital health biographies. It’s no secret that physicians are dissatisfied with EHRs, with the vast majority reporting usability concerns.

Opinions, Editorials & Perspectives

The FDA Empire Strikes Back
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

This year produced no shortage of surprises, and a rare happy one was Food and Drug Administration approval of a muscular dystrophy drug that had been singled out for destruction by agency staffers. But the bureaucracy is now mounting a misinformation campaign, and as a result insurers are denying coverage to some patients.

Research Reports, Issue Briefs & Case Studies

Who Gained Health Insurance Coverage Under the ACA, and Where Do They Live?
Bowen Garrett and Anuj Gangopadhyaya, Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The A ordable Care Act (ACA) became law nearly seven years ago. Today the number of Americans lacking health insurance stands at a historic low, and the ACA is credited with reducing the number of uninsured by about 20 million.

The ACA Individual Market: 2016 Will Be Better Than 2015, But Achieving Target Profitability Will Take Longer
Deep Banerjee et. al., S&P Global Ratings

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual market has proven a tough nut to crack for U.S. health insurers. On one hand they had strong premium growth as the U.S. uninsured rate dropped to historic lows.