Bloomberg: HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Doctors Win, Pharma Loses in Deal

Hospital and doctors’ groups successfully lobbied to save Covid-19 relief money earmarked for their members, while pharmaceutical companies are expected to lose billions of dollars as part of a bipartisan infrastructure deal struck yesterday.

The $550 billion infrastructure package negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators would be paid in part by delaying a Trump-era regulation to end some pharmaceutical rebates and refunds from drugmakers for some kinds of physician-administered single-use medicines.

Not included in the deal: a clawback of $43.7 billion in unspent Covid-19 relief funds marked for health-care providers, which lawmakers had considered taking back. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) confirmed the relief funds were untouched.

Leaning on cost offsets that affect the revenue of drugmakers, rather than those of health-care providers, highlights which sector has a bigger constituency in Congress.

“Cases are going up,” Wyden said of Covid-19 prevalence in the U.S. “I want to make sure this doesn’t impact our nursing homes and hospitals that are getting hit.”

He added that he doesn’t support how the Trump administration designed the rebate rule, and plans to put together a drug pricing bill later this year. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Infrastructure Deal Advances in Senate: The Senate voting yesterday to begin work on the $550 billion infrastructure bill, as Democrats unite behind a plan to muscle through a broader budget resolution to carry the party’s priorities.

The twinned proposals — which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he hopes to get through his chamber before the upcoming August recess — set the stage for some $4.1 trillion in new spending if they ultimately became law, amounting to the biggest overhaul of domestic programs in decades.

“My goal remains to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a budget resolution during this work period,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “We are going to get the job done and we are on track.”

Biden, who has been heavily involved in Senate negotiations, had to give in order to get. He had originally pitched a $2.25 trillion infrastructure proposal, but had to scale that back in negotiations with Republicans. Democrats hope to recoup some elements that didn’t make the Senate infrastructure deal in the Democrat-only legislation that will follow the budget resolution. The president is not assured victory on either front. But the legislative momentum yesterday is a notable success at a difficult time for the administration. Read more from Erik Wasson and Laura Litvan.

Happening on the Hill

Neurodegenerative Cures: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health scheduled a hearing today on treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.

Senate Judiciary Markup: The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up several bills today, including:

  • S. 1425, to enable the Federal Trade Commission to deter filing of sham citizen petitions to cover an attempt to interfere with approval of a competing generic drug or biosimilar;
  • S. 1428, to prohibit brand name drug companies from compensating generic drug companies to delay the entry of a generic drug into the market; and
  • S. 1388, to require the FTC to study the role of intermediaries in the pharmaceutical supply chain and provide Congress with appropriate policy recommendations.

Senators Possibly Exposed as Capitol Faces Spread: A Senate committee delayed a hearing yesterday after some of its members were potentially exposed to Covid-19, the latest signal of the virus’ rapid resurgence at the Capitol. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said his panel delayed the hearing but declined to name which senators were possibly exposed.

In an evenly split Senate that has several major pieces of legislation on its summer agenda, the absence of just one senator can dramatically alter the prospects for legislation. The news came after Congress’s chief physician reimposed a mask-wearing requirement for everyone, including lawmakers, while they are on the House floor or in House hallways and offices, and told senators they should also wear masks. Billy House and Alex Ruoff have more.

Facebook Pressed on Vaccine Misinformation Data: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) demanded Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg immediately release company data about the spread of Covid-19 vaccine misinformation on its platform. Facebook isn’t moving fast enough to remove misinformation, he said in the letter. He wants to know how many users viewed and were recommended misinformation in 2020 and 2021. Read more from Rebecca Kern.

Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) wrote to Zuckerberg earlier this week siding with a call from District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine for the company to publish the results of an internal study that reportedly examined the company’s role in in the spread of Covid-19 misinformation. They ask how many posts flagged as Covid-19 misinformation Facebook has reviewed but not removed. They also asked how much advertising revenue has been generated from the more than 18 million misinformation posts Facebook removed since the start of the pandemic.

Democrats Want DOD to Pay Less for Drugs: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) called on the defense secretary to use the Pentagon’s authority to lower what it pays for drugs and vaccines that were developed with government money. Operation Warp Speed, supported by the Department of Defense, pushed billions of dollars to spur the creation of several Covid-19 vaccines. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Senate Moves to Get Taiwan Back at WHO: Senators moved to pressure China to allow Taiwan to regain observer status at the World Health Organization, citing public health concerns during the global coronavirus pandemic. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted yesterday to require the secretary of state to provide more information on efforts to help Taiwan after it was locked out of global health talks during the pandemic. Nicole Sadek has more.

Puerto Rico Medicaid Money Sought: Members of Congress representing U.S. territories called for a long-term solution to their recurring Medicaid budget shortfalls, such as making Puerto Rico a state. A bipartisan House bill (H.R. 4406) the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently approved would extend Medicaid funding for U.S. territories for five years, averting a late-September budget cliff for those areas.

Representatives of U.S. territories said that extension is welcomed but worried no long-term solutions are being currently weighed. “This agreement would not solve the systemic underfunding of our Medicaid program,” Del. Jenniffer González Colón (R), a non-voting member of the House, said. “Only equality will give us that.”

Without action from Congress, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands would hit a financial cliff at the end of September. The territories would then have to cut benefits, according to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, Alex Ruoff reports.

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