Doc Caucus Discusses International Pricing Index with Azar

Members of the GOP Doctors Caucus met with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar last week to express concerns with a recent proposal from the administration to lower drug prices by tying Medicare Part B prescription payment rates to the amount paid for such drugs in other countries. The meeting gave Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma the opportunity to explain the White House proposal in greater detail. Caucus members Larry Bucshon, MD (R-Ind.) and Phil Roe, MD (R-Tenn.) said that they still have some concerns about the policy but have less concerns than before the meeting. Bucshon had previously expressed opposition to the proposal and its potential to lead to price-fixing.

Grassley Hints at 2019 Finance Committee Agenda

Incoming Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) gave a Senate floor speech last week reiterating his commitment to lowering the cost of prescription drugs next Congress. Grassley highlighted plans to examine a number of controversial policies, such as drug importation, curbing ‘pay for delay,’ and oversight of mergers in the pharmaceutical supply chain. He also noted plans to investigate the use of regulatory loopholes to extend monopolies over certain products. Grassley welcomed collaboration with House Democrats to lower the cost of drugs without compromising access to treatment.

Lawmakers Call for Further Health Insurance Tax Delay

bipartisan group of lawmakers have written to Senate leadership calling for a vote to extend the delay on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) health insurance tax before the end of the lame-duck session. Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) expressed concerns that the tax, which has already been suspended for 2019 and is currently set to begin in 2020, will increase health insurance premiums.

Senate Extends PEPFAR, House Passes Health Care Fraud, Dental Legislation

The Senate passed H.R. 6651, the PEPFAR Extension Act of 2018, by voice vote last week. The bill would extend the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through FY 2023. The bill was passed by the House in November by voice vote. PEPFAR was started by President George W. Bush in 2003 and has treated 14 million people worldwide. The House of Representatives also passed legislation last week to advance public health. H.R. 6753, the Strengthening the Health Care Fraud Prevention Task Force Act of 2018, would codify the existing public-private Health Care Fraud and Prevention Partnership, which works to identify and eliminate health care waste, fraud, and abuse through data and information sharing. H.R. 2422, the Action for Dental Health Act of 2017, would reauthorize grants that support oral health workforce activities as well as authorize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to award grants aimed at improving oral health and preventing dental disease. Both bills passed the House by voice vote.

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