Health Brief: Trump Administration Poised to Roll Back Birth Control Mandate

Government Brief

  • The Trump administration is set to make sweeping changes to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage mandate that could cause hundreds of thousands of women to lose birth control benefits they now receive with little to no cost. The new rule, which could be issued as soon as today, will offer an exemption to employers that cite religious or moral objections to covering contraceptive services. (The New York Times)
  • President Donald Trump personally ordered Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to reject a waiver request from officials in Republican-controlled Iowa to bolster the state’s ailing Obamacare exchange. Supporters of the ACA say the move is further evidence of a broader administration push to undermine the 2010 law. (The Washington Post)
  • The U.S. Treasury Department received a personal check from now-former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price before he resigned last week. Price wrote a check for $51,887, which appears to cover the cost of his seat on private and government planes but not those of staffers who accompanied him. (The Hill)

Business Brief

  • A U.S. jury ordered AbbVie Inc. to pay $140 million to a man who alleged that the drugmaker misrepresented the risks of its testosterone replacement drug AndroGel, causing him to suffer a heart attack. It’s the second verdict stemming from more than 6,000 lawsuits against AbbVie and other companies consolidated in federal court in Chicago. (Reuters)
  • Biogen shares rose 4 percent after Morgan Stanley recommended their clients invest in the drugmaker, citing the development of Alzheimer’s drugs. Morgan Stanley raised its rating of Biogen and noted the potential of its upcoming therapies. (CNBC)
  • California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has until Oct. 15 to decide whether to sign into law legislation that would require drugmakers to justify price hikes. The bill would force drug companies to give at least 60 days’ notice and provide an explanation to state officials and health insurers any time they plan to increase the price of a drug by at least 16 percent. (KQED)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

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Helping those affected by the hurricanes

For those impacted by the devastation and flooding caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, resources are available for patients to access medicines. America’s biopharmaceutical companies are coordinating with local and federal agencies to meet medical needs in the areas impacted by the hurricanes.


Price wrote personal check to Treasury for charter flights before resigning
Jessie Hellmann, The Hill

Former Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price wrote a personal check to the U.S. Treasury Department for the expense of his travel on private charter planes before resigning, an HHS official confirmed to The Hill on Thursday. Price wrote a check for $51,887 before stepping down last week, and the “necessary processing of that payment by HHS has been completed,” the official said.

Anti-Abortion Rep. Tim Murphy Will Resign After Report On Abortion Request
James Doubek and Jessica Taylor, NPR News

Republican Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania will resign from Congress after a report said he asked a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair to get an abortion. On Wednesday, Murphy had initially said he would simply not seek re-election in 2018. But the next day, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that Murphy had sent his resignation letter, effective Oct. 21.

Dollar Gains Before Payrolls; Europe Stocks Drop: Markets Wrap
Cormac Mullen and Adam Haigh, Bloomberg

The dollar extended gains to an almost three-month high after U.S. stocks closed at yet another record, as confidence in the world’s largest economy grows in the buildup to the latest jobs data. European shares edged lower, bond yields rose and the euro weakened as the Catalonia crisis rumbled on.


Trump Administration Set to Roll Back Birth Control Mandate
Robert Pear, The New York Times

The Trump administration is poised to roll back the federal requirement for employers to include birth control coverage in their health insurance plans, vastly expanding exemptions for those that cite moral or religious objections. The new rules, which could be issued as soon as Friday, fulfill a campaign promise by President Trump and are sure to touch off a round of lawsuits on the issue.

As ACA enrollment nears, administration keeps cutting federal support of the law
Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post

For months, officials in Republican-controlled Iowa had sought federal permission to revitalize their ailing health-insurance marketplace. Then President Trump read about the request in a newspaper story and called the federal director weighing the application.

Cigna’s move to drop OxyContin coverage unlikely to curb opioid misuse
Shelby Livingston, Modern Healthcare

Cigna Corp. said it will stop covering prescriptions for opioid pain medication Oxycontin next year as part of its initiative to reduce opioid use among its members. But addiction experts said Cigna’s decision will do little to reduce opioid use in a crisis that has left thousands dead.

Trump Slows Efforts to Cut Health-Care Costs
John Tozzi, Bloomberg

In April 2016 the federal Medicare program began an experiment to save money on the half-million hip and knee replacements it pays for each year. In 67 cities, Medicare capped the payments it makes to hospitals for joint surgeries and the months of follow-up care they require.

Association Health Plans: A Favorite GOP Approach To Coverage Poised For Comeback
Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News

Not even 24 hours after the latest “repeal and replace” proposal ran out of steam, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) ignited a new round of health policy speculation by predicting, during a cable news interview, impending Trump administration action on a longtime Republican go-to idea: association health plans. “If [consumers] can join large groups, get protection and less expensive insurance … it will solve a lot of problems in the individual market,” Paul said last week on the MSNBC show “Morning Joe.”

Johnson threatens to subpoena OPM over ObamaCare ‘congressional exemption’
Rachel Roubein, The Hill

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is threatening to subpoena documents from the Office of Personnel Management [OPM] over what he refers to as the ObamaCare “congressional exemption.” Johnson has criticized rules that allow members of Congress and their staff to receive employer contributions toward their ObamaCare health plans.


MedPAC urges repeal of MIPS
Virgil Dickson, Modern Healthcare

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission is pushing for the immediate repeal and replacement of a Medicare payment system that aims to improve the quality of patient care. To avoid penalties under MACRA, physicians must follow one of two payment tracks: the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), or advanced alternative payment models like accountable care organizations.

Pharma, Biotech and Devices

Second U.S. jury finds AbbVie misrepresented risks of AndroGel
Nate Raymond, Reuters

A U.S. jury on Thursday ordered AbbVie Inc to pay more than $140 million to a man who claimed the company misrepresented the risks of its testosterone replacement drug AndroGel, causing him to suffer a heart attack, the plaintiff’s lawyer said in a statement. The verdict, handed down in federal court in Chicago, came in a lawsuit Tennessee resident Jeffrey Konrad and his wife filed in 2015.

Biogen shares jump after Morgan Stanley upgrades company on its Alzheimer’s drugs
Tae Kim, CNBC

A top Wall Street firm is recommending that investors buy Biogen because of a promising pipeline of drugs it is developing to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Biogen shares rose 4 percent shortly after Thursday’s market open.

Eyes Fixed On California As Governor Ponders Inking Drug Price Transparency Bill
April Dembosky, KQED

Insurers, hospitals and health advocates are waiting for Gov. Jerry Brown to deal the drug lobby a rare defeat, by signing legislation that would force pharmaceutical companies to justify big price hikes on drugs in California. “If it gets signed by this governor, it’s going to send shock waves throughout the country,” said state Sen. Ed Hernandez, a Democrat from West Covina, the bill’s author and an optometrist.

Senator McCaskill drafts bill in response to Allergan patent maneuver
Michael Erman, Reuters

Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill on Thursday said she drafted a bill stating that tribal sovereign immunity cannot be used to block U.S. Patent and Trademark Office review of a patent. Drugmaker Allergan Plc made a deal to transfer some of its patents to a Native American tribe two weeks ago in order to shield them from review.

NIH director pushes for research on non-opioid pain treatments
Rachel Roubein, The Hill

The director of the nation’s top medical research agency said developing alternative ways to address pain is critical as the nation battles an opioid epidemic. “NIH, of course, is in the business of generating the evidence, and there’s a lot we still need to know,” Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said Thursday.

The Lawyer Who Beat Big Tobacco Takes On the Opioid Industry
Esmé E Deprez and Paul Barrett, Bloomberg

Seven years ago, Mike Moore stepped from the 2 a.m. darkness into the light of a small home off Lakeland Drive in Jackson, Miss., to find his nephew close to death. The 250-pound 30-year-old was slumped on the living room couch, his face pale, breath shallow, and chest wet with vomit. It was his fiancée who’d called Moore, waking him in a panic.

Health IT

Senators ask GAO to expand patient matching study
Evan Sweeney, FierceHealthcare

A bipartisan group of senators is asking the Government Accountability Office to expand the scope of its review of patient matching within electronic medical records to include the cost and patient care impact of mismatches. The 21st Century Cures Act requires the GAO to conduct a study on patient matching to protect patient privacy and security.

A Message from PhRMA:

Getting medicines to those affected by hurricanes. America’s biopharmaceutical companies are partnering with disaster response organizations to address medical gaps in the areas impacted by the hurricanes.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

New Quality Measures Can Help Cancer Patients Achieve Better Quality of Life
Barb Jagels and Karen Bird, Morning Consult 

As Washington focuses on opportunities to both improve health care quality and reduce the impact of regulation, many are focused on the collection of quality measures that may be burdensome to health care providers. Recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services took steps to examine, consolidate and reduce the number of quality measurement reporting programs.

Reducing The Externalities Caused By Limited Benefit Plans
Katherine Hempstead, Health Affairs

Limited benefit or non-Affordable Care Act (ACA)-compliant health insurance products are much discussed of late, since a proposal to ease restrictions on short-term health plans is currently under consideration. Critics have argued that these plans hurt both consumers and the individual market, while defenders have suggested that those who can benefit from this competitively priced option should be free to do so.

Obamacare might not be dead, but IPAB should be
Sally Pipes, Washington Examiner

Full-scale repeal of Obamacare has failed, at least for now. But there are still components of the law that can, and should, be rolled back immediately. The Independent Payment Advisory Board is a prime example.

Research Reports

Individual Insurance Market Performance in Mid 2017
Ashley Semanskee and Larry Levitt, Kaiser Family Foundation

Concerns about the stability of the individual insurance market under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have been raised in the past year following exits of several insurers from the exchange markets, and again with renewed intensity in recent months during the debate over repeal of the health law. Our earlier analysis of first quarter financial data from 2011-2017 found that insurer financial performance indeed worsened in 2014 and 2015 with the opening of the exchange markets, but showed signs of improving in 2016 and stabilizing in 2017 as insurers regain profitability.