House Plans Thursday Vote on Medicaid Block Grant Resolution

House leadership has announced plans for a Thursday vote on a resolution of disapproval of the White House’s recently released Medicaid block grant plan, which Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) characterized as “yet another attempt to reduce access to health care and prescription drugs.” The administration’s plan – branded the Healthy Adult Opportunity – would encourage states to apply for permission to cap funding for the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Medicaid expansion population. Under the new block grant program, states would have additional flexibility in administering the Medicaid program, allowing them to impose work requirements, cut provider payments, increase cost-sharing, or adopt a closed formulary for certain drugs.

More than 30 House Democrats signed on to a letter warning the administration against allowing states to block grant portions of their Medicaid funding . The lawmakers argue that such block grants are illegal under Section 1115, and that “previous statements from the administration make it clear that the goal of these block grants is to cut benefits and further limit access to publicly funded health care.” The letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma was led by Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) and signed by 35 other Democratic lawmakers.

Surprise Billing Developments Expected This Week

House Democratic leadership is pushing committee leaders to finish negotiations on the issue of surprise insurance gaps before the current congressional work period ends on February 13. This would allow lawmakers to put together a final deal on surprise billing, along with drug pricing, ahead of the May 22 deadline to extend several health care programs. While the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee have already reached a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on surprise billing, the House Ways and Means Committee is still expected to release a separate package this week and mark up the proposal on February 12. The House Education and Labor Committee also plans to release and mark up its own surprise billing legislation some time over the next two weeks. Additionally, the issue is on the agenda for discussion at the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ next meeting. The caucus could potentially release its own set of recommendations for a solution to surprise billing, further complicating the ongoing negotiations.

SOTU to Discuss Cost of Health Care, Rx Drugs

In a 53-47 vote, the Senate adopted a plan to begin closing arguments in the impeachment trial of President Trump Friday, with a final vote on acquittal scheduled for Wednesday. This means that the impeachment trial will not be officially completed by the President’s State of the Union address on February 4. According to a Trump administration official, the President will urge Congress to lower the cost of health care, including prescription drug prices, during his State of the Union on Tuesday. The White House has reportedly been coordinating with Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) office in preparing the remarks. Lawmakers hope to pass legislation that addresses both the problems of surprise billing and rising drug costs by May 22, the deadline to extend several expiring health care programs.

Democrats Continue Push To Ban Flavored Tobacco Products

Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) has written to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asking House leadership to bring legislation (H.R. 2339) to the floor early this year that would ban all vaping flavors in response to rates of youth e-cigarette and tobacco use. The Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act was introduced by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and advanced by the panel last year. Rep. Craig’s letter requesting its consideration by the full House of Representatives was co-signed by 13 other Democratic lawmakers .

Bloomberg Releases Health Policy Platform

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg is proposing to revise intellectual property (IP) protections for prescription drugs as a means to lower drug prices. His plan would give new drug and biologic applications one 20-year patent – preventing companies from making small changes to their products in order to gain multiple patents and delay generic competition from coming to market. He is the first 2020 presidential candidate to propose a limitation on the number of patents a drug can receive. Bloomberg would also require manufacturers to pay the government royalties on the sales of treatments that were commercially developed from NIH intellectual property. The revenue would be used to fund further NIH research and lower the cost of medicines for Medicare beneficiaries. Bloomberg has also endorsed House Democrat’s drug pricing measure, H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act.

FDA Commissioner to Prioritize Data Modernization

During his first all-hands meeting at the FDA, Commissioner Stephen Hahn stressed his intention to modernize and enhance data collection with the goal of speeding product reviews. He discussed the need to incorporate real-world data from electronic health records (EHRs), studies and patient registries, and patient input into the agency’s processes while maintaining integrity in data strategies. Dr. Hahn spoke about expanding the Patient-Focused Drug Development Initiative, and noted his intention to better communicate with consumers about the entire lifecycle of products regulated by the FDA.

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