Health Brief: Week in Review & What’s Ahead

Week in Review

Senate makes progress on stabilizing ACA, expanding CHIP

  • The outline of a deal to bolster the the Affordable Care Act exchanges in the near term is taking shape in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) suggested he would be willing to fund cost-sharing reduction payments for multiple years in exchange for “structural changes” to the ACA.
  • Some senators from both parties are hopeful the Obamacare stabilization effort could serve as a springboard for a larger bipartisan push to contain U.S. health care spending, which has been growing at a faster rate for decades compared to many other industrialized countries.
  • Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said he supports a five-year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, in a major boost to state administrators who are seeking certainty over funding. Senators still need to reach agreement on a funding level for CHIP, which covers millions of lower- and middle-class families and will expire at the end of September without congressional action.

GOP senators wave white flag on Obamacare fight, bucking Trump

  • Senior Senate Republicans have largely given up on trying to repeal and replace the ACA, despite an effort by the Trump administration and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to muster support for a plan to keep most Obamacare taxes and convert federal funding into block grants to the states. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that reconciliation authority, which would allow Republicans to pass an ACA repeal measure with 51 votes, expires at the end of the month.

Insurers scale back ACA offerings in Virginia, Kentucky

  • Optima Health said it would cut back on where it expects to offer health insurance through the ACA in Virginia, leaving the commonwealth without an insurer willing to sell Obamacare coverage in 48 of its 95 counties. Optima’s decision comes approximately two weeks after Ohio officials filled what then appeared to be the last “bare” county in the United States.
  • Anthem said it would only sell Obamacare plans next year in 59 of Kentucky’s 120 counties, citing uncertainty over the ACA and unstable conditions in the health insurance marketplaces. The health insurer had previously planned to sell individual market plans in all of the state’s counties.

Eli Lilly to cut workforce; FDA targets Pfizer on EpiPens

  • Eli Lilly and Co. announced plans to eliminate 3,500 jobs, roughly 8 percent of its workforce, to save approximately $500 million annually starting next year as it focuses on developing new treatments and revamping its cost structure.
  • The Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter accusing Pfizer of not properly investigating reports of EpiPens malfunctioning, including instances when the device failed to work and patients died or became critically ill. Pfizer manufactures the allergy treatment for the drugmaker Mylan.

What’s Ahead

  • HELP Committee Chairman Alexander hopes to reach bipartisan consensus on a bill to shore up the ACA exchanges by the end of the week. The committee is set to hold two final hearings as members try to resolve two issues: the duration of funding for insurer payments known as cost-sharing reductions and the best way to approach reinsurance.
  • Senate and House committees aim to advance legislation to extend CHIP before the program expires at the end of the month. While the committee process has been productive in both chambers, children’s health advocates say, Congress’ busy September calendar could make passing the reauthorization difficult.

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

No events scheduled
The Hill event on gene therapy 8 a.m.
Senate Finance Committee hearing on health care issues impacting costs and coverage 10 a.m.
Senate HELP Committee hearing on state flexibility 10 a.m.
The Hill event on the opioid epidemic 8 a.m.
Health Affairs briefing on innovation in medicine 9 a.m.
House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on FDA’s regulation of OTC drugs 10:15 a.m.
House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Public Health Service Act workforce programs 10 a.m.
Senate HELP Committee hearing with health care stakeholders 10 a.m.
No events scheduled

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