Lawmakers React to Elli Lilly’s Insulin Pricing Announcement

Eli Lilly announced last week that it will reduce the list price of its insulin products and cap patients’ out-of-pocket costs at $35 a month. The move was praised by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) who characterized it as “a critical step forward” but “long overdue.” Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) subsequently sent letters to Sanofi and Novo Nordisk calling on the companies to lower the prices of their insulin products as well. He also previewed plans to introduce legislation to cap insulin costs at $20 per vial.

E&C Republicans Express Opposition to 2024 NBPP

Republican leadership of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have sent a letter to the Biden administration expressing concerns with the 2024 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (NBPP), which proposes to limit the number of plans that an issuer may offer in the Affordable Care Act marketplace that do not meet certain specifications. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the proposed regulation could result in the termination of 57% of plans on the federal platform – ultimately impacting 2.7 million Americans. “Despite once declaring that, ‘excessive market concentration threatens basic economic liberties,’ President Biden wants to drastically limit Americans’ choices in the health insurance market. In fact, under his latest rule, more than half of all Obamacare plans on the federal exchange would disappear,” the letter states. The lawmakers urge the administration to immediately abandon the proposal and advance policies that “discourage provider consolidation or improve transparency of health care prices to empower individuals and employers when purchasing health care.” The letter was signed by Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), and Subcommittee on Health Chair Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.).

Ohio Senators Urge Health Surveys in East Palestine

Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) have sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency urging the administration to undertake both immediate and long-term health surveys of individuals residing near the recent train derailment in East Palestine as soon as possible. The lawmakers argue that such surveys and assessments are needed to establish a medical baseline for the community exposed to the hazardous chemicals released in the derailment. “The residents of East Palestine and the surrounding community deserve to know if their health has been compromised by this disaster now and for years to come,” the letter states. “Therefore, we urge you to work with your colleagues across the federal government to allocate the resources and expertise needed to begin the surveys and assessment needed to establish a medical baseline for the community.”

FY 2024 Appropriations Update

Senate appropriations leadership announced plans to begin marking up fiscal year (FY) 2024 appropriations bills in May. Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-Maine) told panel members that they are currently negotiating a topline spending target that can be used in drafting the 12 annual spending bills. The Senate Appropriations Committee did not mark up any FY 2023 appropriations legislation last year.

House Appropriations Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Subcommittee Chair Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) has decided to ban congressionally directed spending requests – or earmarks – from his panel’s FY 2024 appropriations bill. Many conservative members in the House of Representatives have expressed support for an across-the-board ban on earmarks in annual funding bills. Bans on earmark requests will also be applied to the Financial Services and Defense bills. House Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger (R-Texas) has indicated that Republicans will otherwise maintain the cap on earmarks at 15 per member, while also emphasizing that only those projects with a direct tie to the federal government will be considered for funding.

Senate Works to Advance Health Nominees

The Senate Finance Committee advanced President Joe Biden’s nomination of Rebecca Haffajee to serve as U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) last week over objections from panel Republicans in a 14-12 vote. Haffajee, an attorney and public health researcher, currently serves as ASPE’s principal deputy assistant secretary. Her nomination will now be sent to the full Senate for a vote. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has also filed a procedural motion to limit debate and consider the nomination of Patrice Kunesh to serve as commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans at HHS.

Feinstein Hospitalized with Shingles

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been hospitalized in San Francisco with a case of shingles after being diagnosed with the infection over the February recess. The Senate’s oldest member stated that she expects to make a full recovery and return to the chamber later this month. Feinstein adds to several health-related absences among Democrats in the Senate, who hold a narrow 51-49 seat majority, that could complicate the advancement of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees. Feinstein is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Democrats hold a one-seat majority. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) remains in treatment for depression, and his office has not provided a timeframe for his return.

Rep. Castro Treated for Cancer

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) will be absent from the House of Representatives for several weeks after undergoing surgery to remove cancerous tumors in his gastrointestinal tract. Castro stated that the “small, slow-growing, and mostly asymptomatic” gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumors were discovered last summer following a series of tests, and that his overall prognosis is good. He plans to remain at home recovering for “several weeks” before returning to Washington.

Slotkin to Run for Senate

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) announced last week that she will run to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) in 2024. Slotkin was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2018 after serving three tours in Iraq as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency. She currently serves on the House Armed Services and Agriculture committees.

FDA Panel Recommends Approval of RSV Vaccines

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) voted last week to recommend that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve both Pfizer’s and GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccines. VRBPAC voted 7-4 with one abstention in support of the safety of Pfizer’s vaccine, and 7-4 with one abstention in support of the efficacy of Pfizer’s vaccine. Support for GSK’s product was wider – the panel voted 10-2 in support of its safety and were unanimous in support of its efficacy. Some panel members expressed concerns about the possibility of nervous system disorders like Guillain-Barré syndrome associated with the vaccines. If the vaccines are approved by the FDA, they will then be considered before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for recommendations on how and when the vaccines are to be used.

New Survey Released on Telemedicine Use, Preferences

Most U.S. adults prefer getting prescription refills and care for minor illnesses via telemedicine rather than in-person care, according to a new survey released by Rock Health and Stanford University’s Center for Digital Health. The survey of more than 8,000 adults found that approximately two-thirds of Americans prefer in-person care for visits related to chronic conditions and mental health, while three-quarters of adults prefer in-person visits for annual wellness checks, emergency care, and physical therapy. The survey also covered the differences in rates of telemedicine use among different populations before and after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, finding telemedicine use grew especially among uninsured and rural respondents.

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