Health Brief: Senate HELP Committee ACA Hearings Start Today

Government Brief

  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is set to commence a bipartisan push to stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, in what could be a heavy lift given time constraints, a busy legislative calendar for September and hyper-partisan health care politics. Negotiations on a narrow deal are expected to center on whether cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers should be extended for more than one year — as Democrats are calling for — and reforms sought by Republicans to give states more flexibility. (The Washington Post)
  • President Donald Trump and some GOP senators want to take another shot at repealing Obamacare. The White House has been working with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) on a plan, despite the long odds that Republicans will be able to revive the Obamacare repeal push and pass a bill by the end of September. (Politico)
  • Industry groups are ramping up a lobbying blitz to get Congress to delay or repeal Obamacare taxes on health insurers and medical device makers. The two taxes, which Congress delayed in late 2015 and are opposed by members of both parties, are set to take effect at the start of next year unless lawmakers can agree to delay them again or repeal them. (The Wall Street Journal)

Business Brief

  • The hospital industry has gone on a spree of acquiring doctor practices in recent years, to the extent that in some areas hospitals now have a near-monopoly on physicians. The practice has not received much scrutiny from federal regulators because the deals are typically far too small to trigger the official notice of federal antitrust authorities or even attract public attention, according to a new study published in Health Affairs. (Kaiser Health News)
  • Merck KGaA is considering putting its consumer health business up for sale. The company divested from its biosimilars unit earlier this year, as it shifts its business model to science and technology ventures. (FiercePharma)
  • Two pharmaceutical industry lobbying groups filed a lawsuit challenging a law in Nevada that imposes price transparency requirements on diabetes drugs. The lawsuit argues that the law creates an “effective cap” on diabetes medication prices in the state. (The Nevada Independent)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Senate HELP Committee hearing with insurance commissioners on ACA stabilization 10 a.m.
Senate Appropriations subcommittee markup of HHS spending bill 11 a.m.
Cato Institute event on health insurance effect on mortality 12 p.m.
Senate HELP Committee hearing with governors on ACA stabilization 9 a.m.
Senate Finance Committee hearing on reauthorizing CHIP 10 a.m.
Senate Appropriations Committee markup of HHS spending bill 10:30 a.m.
Medicare Payment Advisory Commission September meeting 9:30 a.m.
Govs. Hickenlooper, Kasich discuss bipartisan ACA plan 9 a.m.
NIHCM webinar on cancer care 1:30 p.m.
Medicare Payment Advisory Commission September meeting 10 a.m.

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Trump wants one last Senate push on Obamacare repeal
Burgess Everett and Josh Dawsey, Politico

President Donald Trump and some Senate Republicans are refusing to give up on Obamacare repeal, even after this summer’s spectacular failure and with less than a month before a key deadline. The president and White House staff have continued to work with Republican Sens.

MacArthur: Agreement reached with House Freedom Caucus chair on health plan
Peter Sullivan, The Hill

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) says he has reached an agreement with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, on the terms for a bill aimed at stabilizing ObamaCare markets. MacArthur, who is more centrist than Meadows and previously worked with him on a deal for ObamaCare repeal legislation, says he has reached agreement with Meadows on the outline of a proposal, though some details need to be worked out.

The infant mortality problem by race and geography
Bob Herman, Axios

Babies with black mothers die twice as often as babies with white or Hispanic mothers, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that’s across urban and rural settings.

Stocks Slide as Headwinds Build; Treasuries Steady: Markets Wrap
Samuel Potter, Bloomberg

There was little optimism on display in Wednesday trading, with North Korean tensions simmering, another hurricane bearing down on the U.S. and the American debt ceiling looming. European stocks followed Asian peers lower and most industrial metals dropped.


Senate panel begins bipartisan hearings to try to improve Affordable Care Act
Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post

After years of high-wattage partisan feuding over the Affordable Care Act, a Senate committee on Wednesday is holding the first in a series of hearings to try to build momentum for lawmakers to agree on some ways to strengthen the law’s insurance marketplaces. Four hearings being held by the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee are part of a push by the panel’s top Republican and Democrat, who are racing to negotiate an agreement before the month ends.

Industry Groups Push for Repeal or Delay of Two Affordable Care Act Taxes
Michelle Hackman, The Wall Street Journal

Industry groups are ramping up a campaign to repeal or delay two Affordable Care Act taxes that have critics in both parties, the latest effort to tackle the health-care system following the collapse of the broad Republican push to repeal the Obama-era law. The taxes, one on medical devices and another on health-insurance plans, were previously delayed in late 2015 as part of a larger spending package.

Groups press senators for two years of ObamaCare subsidy funding
Nathaniel Weixel, The Hill

The Senate’s bipartisan health care bill needs to fund ObamaCare’s subsidy payments for at least two years, insurers, hospitals and other stakeholder groups said Tuesday. In a letter to the Senate Health Committee, groups including the America’s Health Insurance Plans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association said Congress needs to fund cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments through at least 2019.

Most Healthy Indiana Plan members would be exempt from state’s proposed work requirement
Dan Carden,

Fewer than 30 percent of the 438,000 Hoosiers enrolled in the Healthy Indiana Plan would be required to comply with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s proposed work mandate. Documents recently submitted to the federal government in support of his plan to make able-bodied, low-income Hoosiers work as a condition of receiving health coverage show the majority of HIP members qualify for at least one of 14 exemptions


How Below-The-Radar Mergers Fuel Health Care Monopolies
Jay Hancock, Kaiser Health News

Hospitals have gone on a doctor-buying spree in recent years, in many areas acquiring so many independent practices they’ve created near-monopolies on physicians. Research published Tuesday throws new light on the trend, showing that large doctor practices, many owned by hospitals, exceed federal guidelines for market concentration in more than a fifth of the areas studied.

Lasker Prizes go to Planned Parenthood and Developers of HPV Vaccine
Heather Murphy, The New York Times

One of the nation’s most prestigious prizes in medicine will go to Planned Parenthood and two scientists who played a crucial role in developing the vaccine to combat HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer. A third honor will go to a Swiss molecular biologist, who made a groundbreaking discovery about cell growth.

Kentucky trial could make state first in U.S. with no abortion clinic
Chris Kenning, Reuters

Kentucky’s “unapologetically pro-life” governor and the state’s last abortion clinic will square off on Wednesday in a federal courtroom in a case that could make it the first U.S. state without an abortion provider. In a three-day trial, the state will argue before a U.S. District judge in Louisville that EMW Women’s Surgical Center does not have proper state-required agreements with a hospital and an ambulance service in case of medical emergencies.

Utah hospital bars police from interacting with nurses
Peter Sullivan, The Hill

The Utah hospital where a nurse was arrested for refusing to give a patient’s blood sample to police announced new policies to keep police away from its nursing staff. Margaret Pearce, chief of nursing at the University of Utah health system, announced the changes in response to the incident.

Pharma, Biotech and Devices

Merck KGaA mulls sale of undersized consumer health unit
Carly Helfand, FiercePharma

Biosimilars may not be the only business Merck KGaA divests in 2017. The German drugmaker is weighing options for its consumer health business, it said Tuesday, and a partial or full sale is on the table.

In lawsuit, Big Pharma argues Nevada law creates ‘effective cap’ on insulin prices
Megan Messerly, The Nevada Independent

The pharmaceutical industry is taking Nevada’s new insulin transparency law to court. Two drug lobbying groups, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), filed a lawsuit on Friday asking the U.S. District Court to declare that provisions of the law are preempted by federal law and violate the Constitution.

Novo Nordisk settles U.S. probe over diabetes drug for nearly $58.7 million
Nate Raymond, Reuters

Novo Nordisk will pay nearly $58.7 million to resolve claims the drugmaker’s sales staff downplayed the importance of U.S. Food and Drug Administration-mandated warnings about the cancer risks of its diabetes medication Victoza. The U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday’s settlement would resolve claims Novo Nordisk supplied its sales representatives with information to give to doctors that created the false or misleading impression that warnings were wrong or unimportant.

Cancer survivors more likely to skip drugs due to cost
Shereen Lehman, Reuters

The percentage of U.S. adults under age 65 who skip essential prescription drugs because of price has declined, a five-year study found. But consistently, problems with financial access to medication were more common in cancer survivors.

Teleflex buys out urology device firm for $1.1 billion
Bob Herman, Axios

Medical device company Teleflex is acquiring NeoTract, a smaller company that makes just one medical device, in a deal valued at $1.1 billion. Teleflex will pay $725 million upfront and $375 million in additional payments tied to sales goals.

Health IT

IBM pitched its Watson supercomputer as a revolution in cancer care. It’s nowhere close
Casey Ross and Ike Swetlitz, Stat News

It was an audacious undertaking, even for one of the most storied American companies: With a single machine, IBM would tackle humanity’s most vexing diseases and revolutionize medicine.

Mobile apps for diabetes patients need careful review
Carolyn Crist, Reuters

Diabetes patients who use smartphone applications to manage their condition should know that not all apps are reliable, researchers say. “We have more than 165,000 health and fitness apps in app stores right now and little control over what’s being published,” said study author Francois Modave of the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

When It Comes to the Drug Pricing Debate, Talk Is Cheap
Chrystine Zacherau and April Claassen, Morning Consult 

In the last several months, individual companies have begun to take actions in an attempt to address pricing concerns and demonstrate their ability to “self-police” — especially in the face of bad actors that have fueled hatred of the pharmaceutical industry by taking significant price increases on single-source products.

The Real Reason the U.S. Has Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance
Aaron E. Carroll, The New York Times

The basic structure of the American health care system, in which most people have private insurance through their jobs, might seem historically inevitable, consistent with the capitalistic, individualist ethos of the nation. In truth, it was hardly preordained.

How we can find common ground on health care
Patty Murray, The Washington Post

Like so many people across the country, I breathed a sigh of relief when Trumpcare didn’t reach the president’s desk this summer. But legislation isn’t the only way the current administration has tried to undermine families’ health care and raise their costs.

Research Reports

Medicaid Expansion For Adults Had Measurable ‘Welcome Mat’ Effects On Their Children
Julie L. Hudson and Asako S. Moriya, Health Affairs

Before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), most children in low-income families were already eligible for public insurance through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Increased coverage observed for these children since the ACA’s implementation suggest that the legislation potentially had important spillover or “welcome mat” effects on the number of eligible children enrolled.