House Lawmakers Release Competing Reports on Drug Pricing

Two separate reports on the issue of drug pricing were released by House Oversight and Investigations Committee Democrats and Republicans last week. The Democratic report, stemming from a three-year investigation by the Committee, asserts that Medicare could have saved more than $25 billion if allowed to negotiate prices for the seven most costly medications in Part D between 2014 and 2018. It alleges that pharmaceutical manufacturers specifically target the U.S. for price increases and use patient assistant programs to drive up profits. According to the report, the 14 largest pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. spent $577 billion on stock buybacks and dividends from 2016 to 2020, $56 billion more than they spent on research and development over that time. It also details executive compensation at the top brand-name pharmaceutical companies. The Republicans’ publication explores the role of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and details findings from a recent forum hosted by House Oversight and Investigations Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.) examining how PBM tactics contribute to the rising cost of prescription drugs for Americans. The report concludes that PBMs use their market leverage to increase their profits, not reduce costs for consumers, and argues that drug manufacturers may raise their prices due to PBMs. The GOP report concludes that greater transparency is necessary to determine the extent of the damage PBMs’ tactics are having on patients and the marketplace.

Lawmakers Request Info on E-Cig Approvals

Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) and Michael Cloud (R-Texas) have sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting information about the review of premarket tobacco product applications from e-cigarette manufacturers. The lawmakers seek to ensure the agency is exercising its full authority to protect children from e-cigarette products. In related news, a proposal to tax e-cigarettes and other vaping products at the same rate as traditional nicotine has been dropped from the Build Back Better reconciliation package. The vape tax, as included in the House-passed bill, was projected to raise approximately $8.6 billion in federal revenue over the next decade.

Guthrie Tests Positive for COVID-19

Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) announced that he has tested positive for COVID-19. Guthrie is fully vaccinated and experiencing mild symptoms of illness. He is one of at least 19 members of Congress who have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent months despite being vaccinated.

MedPAC Considers Draft Payment Update Recommendations

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) met last week to review Medicare’s fee-for-service payment policies and make its annual payment update recommendations. The panel’s draft recommendations suggest that physicians and health professionals, ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), and hospice providers do not receive an increase to their Medicare payments in 2023, while suggesting a pay bump of 2% for acute care hospitals and 1.2% for dialysis facilities. The commission will vote on its final recommendations during its January 2022 meeting.

Call to Action to Reduce Maternal Mortality and Morbidity

Vice President Kamala Harris launched a Call to Action to Reduce Maternal Mortality and Morbidity last week. As a part of this effort, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will propose a “Birthing-Friendly” hospital designation to drive improvements in perinatal health outcomes and maternal health equity. The designation would initially identify hospitals that provide perinatal care, are participating in a maternity care quality improvement collaborative, and have implemented recommended patient safety practices. The agency is also encouraging states to take advantage of the American Rescue Plan’s (ARP) option to provide 12 months postpartum coverage to pregnant women who are enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Tabak to Serve as Acting NIH Director

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced last week that National Institutes of Health (NIH) Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S. will serve as acting NIH director when Francis Collins steps down on December 19. Tabak has served as Collin’s deputy at the agency for over a decade. He previously worked as the director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Tabak is permitted to remain in the acting director position for 210 days while the administration searches for Collins’ permanent successor. Collins has expressed hope that the White House will choose a woman for the position. Bernadine Healy is the only woman to have previously served as NIH Director.

Upcoming Congressional Hearings and Markups

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on the nomination of Dr. Robert Califf to be Commissioner of Food and Drugs, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health and Human Services; 10:00 a.m.; December 14

House Oversight and Reform Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing “A Global Crisis Needs a Global Solution: The Urgent Need to Accelerate Vaccinations Around the World;” 2:00 p.m.; December 14

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