Energy and Commerce Committee Dems Request Gun Hearings

Last week, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the lead Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) urging him to hold hearings to address gun violence in America. The letter, which was signed by all 24 Democratic Members of the committee, asked that the they hold a hearing on 4 gun violence topics including: (1) The demographics, details, and geography of the victims involved in gun violence; (2) The lethality of guns and gun accessories; (3) Issues and loopholes in purchasing guns; and (4) The role of social media in the divisions within the gun debate. The call for hearings followed a February 16th letter from committee Democrats urging a hearing on gun violence prevention research.

Gottlieb Blames PBMs and Others for High Drug Costs

Commissioner of Food and Drugs Scott Gottlieb, MD criticized pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), health insurers, and drug makers on Wednesday for “Kabuki drug-pricing constructs” that profit the industry at the expense of consumers. Gottlieb aimed particular criticism at giant PBMs that contract with health plans to administer coverage of drugs, saying the industry’s tactics have stymied cheaper copies of expensive biotechnology drugs. “Consolidated firms -- the PBMs, the distributors, and the drug stores; team up with payors,” Gottlieb said. “They use their individual market power to effectively split monopoly rents with large manufacturers and other intermediaries; rather than passing on the saving garnered from competition to patients and employers.” While the FDA has little or no power over PBMs, Gottlieb’s remarks make clear that administration health officials place the blame for high drug costs not just on biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies but also on other parts of the complex medical supply chain.

Ongoing Questions Regarding How to Spend Opioid Funding

The Bipartisan Budget Agreement announced February 9 provided up to $3 billion for opioid funding in FY18, and Congress is still working to determine how to allocate those funds. While the appropriators were initially leaning toward providing all of the key funds through Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grants to support state-run treatment programs, the introduction of a bipartisan Senate bill, S. 2456, dubbed “CARA 2.0,” suggests a different path. The bill would authorize $1 billion in additional funding, which includes $10 million for a national education campaign, $300 million to expand access to medication assisted treatment (MAT), $200 million to build a national infrastructure for recovery support services, and $300 million for expanding first responder training and access to naloxone. Previously, HHS Secretary Alex Azar told lawmakers during an oversight hearing that $1 billion should go to targeted state grant programs while $400 million should go for federal community health centers, $150 million should go to rural health programs, and more than $150 million could be used on programs to halt the spread of infectious diseases related to drug use. In addition, according to Azar, drug courts and programs to support pregnant woman addicted to drugs should receive some of the funding.

Energy & Commerce Oversight Subcommittee Examines Seasonal Flu

On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee held a hearing titled “Examining U.S. Public Health Preparedness for and Response Efforts to Seasonal Influenza.” The subcommittee heard from the CDC, FDA, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which discussed why this season’s flu reached epidemic proportions, the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine, and efforts to develop a universal flu vaccine.

Last month, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Mass.) introduced companion legislation to provide $1 billion for NIH to conduct research towards the discovery and development of a universal flu vaccine.

House to Vote on Revised Right to Try Legislation

House leadership announced that the House will vote on Tuesday to consider revised ‘Right to Try’ legislation which will be formally introduced today. Last Thursday, Chairman on the House Energy and Commerce Committee Greg Walden (R-Ore.) issued a joint statement with Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael Burgess, MD (R-Texas) stating “This is a complicated issue with passionate advocates on both sides and it was imperative we got the policy right. After months of thoughtful discussions, we believe this legislation is ready for a vote in the House.” The bill would prevent the government from blocking access to drugs that have only undergone preliminary testing in humans. The legislation is an amended version of S. 204, which was passed by the Senate last year. Advancing this legislation has been a priority for President Trump, who mentioned the issue in his 2018 State of the Union Address, and Vice President Mike Pence, who signed ‘Right to Try’ legislation into law while serving as Governor of Indiana.

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