Senate Passes Medicaid Extenders Act of 2019

The Senate passed by voice vote H.R. 259 last week, which would provide $112 million in funding to continue projects under the Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration Grant for FY 2019. The bill would be paid for by reducing Medicaid funding for states that don’t have asset verification programs for Medicaid eligibility determination beginning in 2021. The legislation was passed by the House on Jan. 8.

Oversight Launches Drug Pricing Investigation

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has opened up an investigation into the prescription drug industry’s pricing decisions. The Committee has sent letters to 12 drug companies – AbbVie, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Mallinckrodt, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Sanofi, and Teva – requesting information about price increases, investments in research and development, and corporate strategies to preserve market share and pricing power. The letters focus on the products most costly to Medicare Part D, most costly per beneficiary, and the products with the largest price increases over a five-year period. The goals of the investigation are to determine why prices are increasing, how companies are using profits, and what steps can be taken to reduce drug prices. The issue of drug pricing is a priority for Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). The panel’s first hearing is expected to take place on Jan. 29, when members will hear from experts and patients about rising drug costs.

Azar on the Hill to Talk Drug Pricing

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar was on the Hill last week to meet with lawmakers on the subject of drug prices. The Secretary met with Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). Azar is gathering views on what policies lawmakers hope to pass during the 116th Congress to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

During his meeting with Finance Committee Republicans, Medicare negotiation, drug rebates, and rising list prices were discussed. According to Sen. Grassley, Senate Republicans are split on the administration’s International Pricing Index (IPI) proposal. Grassley himself plans to withhold judgement on the idea until after the administration responds to public comments. Rep. Cummings exited his meeting hopeful that drug pricing could be addressed on a bipartisan basis. He discussed with Secretary Azar the slate of bicameral legislation introduced by himself and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) earlier this month. The bills would tie the price of prescription drugs in the U.S. to the median price paid by foreign governments, allow Americans to import certain drugs, and expand the Secretary’s power to negotiate in Medicare.

Azar plans to sit down with Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and panel Democrats, HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) in the coming weeks. Department spokespeople have stated that all options that “preserve drug safety and keep patients at the center” are on the table.

Dems Raise Concerns About Shutdown and Health Premiums

A group of congressional Democrats has written to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and HHS Secretary Alex Azar expressing concerns about premium spikes due to the ongoing government shutdown. Premium subsidies in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace are administered by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), whose operations have been impacted by the shutdown. The lawmakers urge the administration “to ensure that consumers are not faced with unexpected premium costs, do not lose coverage, and have access to the filing assistance they need.” The letter was signed by Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Patty Murray (Wash.), and Bob Casey (Pa.), and Reps. Frank Pallone (N.J.), Richard Neal (Mass.), and Bobby Scott (Va.).

116th Congress Committee Rosters Announced

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) announced the full Democratic rosters for the panel’s six subcommittees in the 116th Congress, including the six subcommittee chairs and the full Committee Vice Chair. Rep. Yvette Clarke (N.Y.) was elected by panel Democrats as Vice Chair of the full Committee. Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.) will chair the Health Subcommittee, which added Ann Kuster (N.H.), Robin Kelly (Ill.), Nanette Barragán (Calif.), and Lisa Blunt Rochester (Del.) to its membership. Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) announced subcommittee ranking members. Rep. Michael Burgess, M.D. (Texas) will be the ranking Republican on the Health Subcommittee, which added Rep. Greg Gianforte (Mont.) to its membership.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) also announced the chairs and Democratic membership of his panel for the current congress. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (Texas) will chair the Health Subcommittee, which will be comprised of Reps. Mike Thompson (Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Ron Kind (Wis.), Brian Higgins (N.Y.), Terri Sewell (Ala.), Judy Chu (Calif.), Dwight Evans (Pa.), Brad Schneider (Ill.), Jimmy Gomez (Calif.), and Steven Horsford (Nev.). On the Republican side, Devin Nunes (Calif.) will serve as Ranking Member alongside Reps. Vern Buchanan (Fla.), Adrian Smith (Neb.), Kenny Marchant (Texas), Tom Reed (N.Y.), Mike Kelly (Pa.), and George Holding (N.C.).

Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) also announced his panel’s chairmen and membership assignments for this congress. The Primary Health and Retirement Security Subcommittee will be led by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). The Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee will be led by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). The Children and Families Subcommittee will be led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

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