THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Nov. 11th – Friday, Nov. 15th

November 16, 2019 by B. Cameron Webb, MD, JD

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, November 11th – Friday, November 15th

Hi all! Let’s talk about drugs!

Our Presidential candidates are busy on the campaign trail and in the Senate. On Friday, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that would create a new federal agency, the Bureau of Prescription Drug Affordability and Access, entrusted with controlling the costs of prescription drugs. The Bureau would determine an appropriate price for new drugs and if pharmaceutical companies do not comply, they void their protections and other companies can produce generic copies.

This new proposal comes in light of recent rejections in the Senate. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) blocked a bipartisan bill proposed by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to lower prescription drug prices by targeting pharmaceutical companies that game the patent system. Schumer felt this bill was limited in scope and there were better options, such as Senators’ Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) bipartisan bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. While Senators fuss about bills that are not mutually exclusive, a recent survey found that 22.9% of Americans say that they or a household member were unable to afford a prescription in the last 12 months — an increase from 18.9% in January.

Some states have taken matters into their own hands. The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday unanimously passed legislation that would limit consumers’ out-of-pocket insulin costs to $25 a month and add additional oversight on drugs that cost more than $50,000 a year per patient or are on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines. Maine started formulating a plan to import prescription drugs from Canada

On Wednesday, the Secretary of Health and Human Services announced that the Trump Administration plans to make significant changes to its International Pricing Index (IPI) model, a proposal released last year in order to address disparities in drug prices between the United States and other countries. Although the original proposal sought to lower the cost of certain drugs, such as physician-administered medicines, to align with prices in other countries, the Trump Administration now plans to introduce changes that will reduce prices even further. In spite of recent bipartisan efforts to combat rising drug costs in the Senate, the administration’s proposal has faced pushback from both Republicans and Democrats and has yet to be finalized. 

This has been a busy week for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). On Tuesday the Trump Administration and CMS proposed a new rule that would increase accountability of state Medicaid payments. This proposed rule would hold states in check through three functions: It would require states to disclose any and all payments down to the individual provider-level, it would establish clear definitions for regulation terminology, and it would force states to set three year cut-off points for existing supplemental payments and tax waivers with the option to apply for renewals.

On Friday, CMS finalized a new rule that will force hospitals to disclose detailed pricing information for services offered. Starting January 1st, 2021, hospitals will have to release public data files containing this information for all provided items and services, as well as establish searchable consumer-friendly web pages for 300 plannable “common shoppable services” such as x-rays and outpatient visits. Concurrently, CMS proposed that the same pricing transparency likewise be made available for employer-based, single, and group insurance plans by forcing insurance companies to share such information with consumers.

State reproductive policy was a topic of conversation this Thursday on Capitol Hill, as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing seeking to address “state efforts to undermine access to reproductive health care.” Specifically, the Committee focused on regulations in Missouri, inviting Dr. Colleen McNicholas (chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri) as a witness to testify in regard to her continued dispute with Missouri officials on misgivings about their procedures. Dr. McNicholas has stated that the state is “a perfect example of how the regulatory process, specifically the licensing process, has been weaponized — to political ends — really to end abortion at all costs.”

In Ohio, state representatives Ron Hood (R) and Candice Keller (R) are presenting House Bill 413, which would redefine unborn fetuses as people, thus effectively reclassifying abortion as murder. A similar bill was introduced in the Ohio legislature last session that did not pass either the Senate or the House of Representatives. Nonetheless, this bill is one of several state bills seen in the past few years attempting to pass, in order to ultimately challenge Roe v. Wade in the U.S. Supreme Court.

And finally, your friendly public health reminder for the week: we hope y’all are washing your hands and covering your coughs because it’s a sick world out there! This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report saying “More than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the United States each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result.” While deaths from “superbugs” have declined recently, antibiotic resistance is still a dangerous threat. Meanwhile, in China, two individuals have been diagnosed with the pneumonic plague – yeah, as in related to the bubonic plague. The risk for transmission is extremely low but this occurrence can still serve as a reminder to keep an eye on our health. 

Until next time!

 


This Week’s Viewpoints Writing Team:
Avery Bullock, Carina Clawson, Jo McClain, Steven Moore and Nana Owusu