Andrew Siddons

Drug Prices Could Become a Divisive Issue for Democrats
Internal tensions over Big Pharma could be on full display next Congress

Democrats are making the cost of prescription drugs a pillar of the party’s health care agenda in the midterms, but if they win a majority for the 116th Congress, the party will have to grapple with internal divisions over the issue that might be magnified next year.

This campaign season has been notable for candidates pushing the party to reject corporate influence. For emboldened progressive Democrats, the party’s current plans might not be enough. Their views compete with those of new candidates from politically moderate areas with a big pharmaceutical industry presence that might be more inclined to join with longtime incumbents who sympathize more with the industry’s perspective.

Hill Sends Big Chunk of Next Year’s Money to Trump, Minus His Border Wall
All eyes were elsewhere as House passed $855B measure for fiscal 2019

As President Donald Trump gave a stem-winding press conference Wednesday on refusing to meet with the Canadian prime minister, getting laughed at by the United Nations, and what will happen to his embattled Supreme Court nominee, the House was passing legislation.

The chamber voted, 361-61, in favor of a measure that would allocate most of the fiscal 2019 appropriations that Congress controls, along with a continuing resolution to keep much of the rest of the government operating into December.

FDA Threatens to Stop Sales of Flavored E-Cigarettes
Agency gives companies 60 days to present strategy to curb youth use

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday announced it may force e-cigarette manufacturers to stop selling flavored products, citing what Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called an “epidemic” of youth use.

Five companies, including JUUL Labs, Inc., maker of the popular, USB-drive shaped device with nicotine flavors, will have 60 days to give the FDA a strategy on how they will curb youth use — “or face regulatory consequences,” Gottlieb said.

Democratic Candidates Walk Political Tightrope on Drug Prices
Pharmaceutical industry employs many potential voters in some districts

Democrats working to regain control in Congress this fall are making the cost of prescription drugs a centerpiece of the party’s message. The path to a majority, however, runs through some places where the pharmaceutical industry employs a lot of potential voters.

Southern California, New Jersey, and the Philadelphia suburbs are among the areas where Democrats have the strongest chances to turn red House seats blue. Yet since these states are some of the biggest pharmaceutical hubs in the United States — the industry estimates it directly employs 44,000 people in Pennsylvania, 65,000 people in New Jersey, and 131,000 in California — candidates there tread a little more cautiously on the issue of drug prices.

$177.1 Billion Labor-HHS-Education Moves Forward With Family Separation Changes
House Appropriations has approved 11 of 12 fiscal 2019 spending measures

The House Appropriations Committee late Wednesday evening approved, 30-22, a $177.1 billion fiscal 2019 bill to fund the departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services.

The committee has now approved 11 of its 12 fiscal 2019 spending measures, following the marathon 13-hour markup of the massive nondefense bill that left lawmakers from both parties exasperated at various points. The debate covered family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border, gun research funding, abstinence-only sex education and thorny political issues around religious adoption agencies.

House Appropriators Back Indefinite Detention of Migrant Kids
DeLauro: ‘It creates a false choice: Either we take the kids away or we jail everyone together’

The Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the southern border dominated the first few hours of Wednesday’s House Appropriations Committee markup of a spending bill for the Labor, Education and Health and Human Services departments.

As of midafternoon, committee members had gotten through only eight of up to 50 expected amendments to the fiscal 2019 $177.1 billion spending measure.

McConnell Gets Personal Discussing Polio
Majority leader makes argument for disease eradication programs

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s main fight for the next few months will be to get President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee out of the Senate. But the same morning that the effort to confirm Brett Kavanaugh truly kicked off, the Kentucky Republican took time to discuss a more personal battle: his childhood struggle with polio.

Speaking at a conference on polio eradication at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, McConnell affirmed United States financial support for the effort to vaccinate children and track the few remaining cases worldwide.

Hospital Drug Discount Program Under Lawmakers’ Microscope
House panel to examine legislation Wednesday

A House panel that has been scrutinizing hospitals’ use of a drug discount program will examine on Wednesday pieces of legislation that stem from members’ concerns over the discounts.

The Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight panel has had two hearings in the past year on the program, known as 340B. The committee has requested information from hospitals that participate and in January published a report outlining ways the drug discount program could be better run.

Health Statistics See Funding Lag Amid Boosts Elsewhere
Advocates are concerned a critical national survey could soon disappear

Stagnant funding for federal health statistics is raising concerns among medical professionals, patient advocates and other groups that one of the national surveys used to assess the death rate from opioid abuse and average life expectancy may soon disappear.

Funding for the National Center for Health Statistics has fallen from $166 million five years ago to $160 million this year. And while the Senate is proposing a $1 million increase for health statistics for fiscal 2019, the House has proposed level funding and the Trump administration is calling for a $5 million cut.

House Proposes Cuts to School Safety, Behavioral Health
House Education and HHS funding proposal cuts $110 million

The House is proposing to cut funding for school safety programs, even as Congress continually increases spending on its own security. Some lawmakers and education advocates question the logic of this amid a nationwide conversation on school security, gun violence and self-harm.

The House’s draft fiscal 2019 spending bill to fund the Education and Health and Human Services departments proposes about $110 million in reductions to programs meant to improve school safety and steer behavioral health services toward students.

Lawmakers Call for More Resources for Separated Migrant Children
Murray questions whether HHS can handle the situation

Lawmakers and public health groups on Thursday urged the Trump administration to commit more resources to the health needs of the immigrant children who have been separated from their families at the border.

Even as Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited the Texas-Mexico border with first lady Melania Trump, questions remained about whether the department has adequate funding to handle the situation and how much more might be needed.

Childhood Cancer Measure Nears Bipartisan Win
Advocates had concerns over congressional, White House prioritizing Right to Try

Groups who push for progress against childhood cancer see President Donald Trump’s imminent signing of a bill to enhance research in the field as a significant win after they grew frustrated with Congress and the administration’s pursuit of higher-profile legislation to expand access to experimental treatments.

The cancer legislation would let the Health and Human Services Department set up demonstration projects for childhood cancer survivors. Even after successful treatment, these patients can experience effects from their cancer, such as cardiovascular issues, intellectual handicaps and emotional trauma.

Health Officials Hit Back at Critics of Trump’s Drug Price Plan
As Democrats say the president’s plan is weak, Azar calls it a ”fundamental potential restructuring” of the American economy

Top administration health officials on Monday defended President Donald Trump’s plan to address high prescription drug prices, which has drawn criticism from both the industry and those who see it as a capitulation to drug companies.

In a speech Monday in the foyer of the Health and Human Services Department, Secretary Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical company executive, took direct aim at the industry. He said drug companies were offering the American people a false choice between the development of life-saving innovations and affordability.

Questions Surround ‘America First’ Plan on Overseas Drug Prices
Trump calls overseas costs unfair compared to U.S.

President Donald Trump took aim at “global freeloading” in his Friday speech on drug prices, putting an “America First” angle on a complicated policy issue. Although Trump’s rhetoric in the speech was fairly tough on the pharmaceutical industry, this issue was one area where Trump was borrowing a page from the Big Pharma playbook.

For all the resonance this part of the drug pricing debate might have with Trump and his political supporters, the administration’s accompanying policy blueprint had few details on how to address what other countries pay for prescription drugs. Questions remain over whether higher prices overseas would translate into lower prices in the United States.

House Outcome on 'Right to Try' Bill Uncertain
Even if it passes, Senate chances are not clear either

The House on Tuesday evening was poised to vote on a bill intended to give dying patients greater access to experimental treatments, but it was unclear whether Republican leaders had enough votes to pass it under a fast-track process. Even if it does pass, the sponsor of the Senate version said it was uncertain how the Senate might respond.

House Democratic leaders were opposing the bill, mostly over the process Republicans used. Republicans released the so-called “Right to Try” bill at about 12:30 a.m. early Saturday morning, and on Sunday, leaders said it would get a vote on Tuesday under suspension of the rules, which does not allow amendments and requires approval from two-thirds of those present to pass. About 50 House Democrats would have to join Republicans in order for it to pass, or more if some GOP lawmakers break with their party.

The Never-Ending Crisis at the Indian Health Service
As the chronically under-funded agency struggles, American Indians are getting sicker and dying sooner

The health disparities between American Indians and the rest of the United States population are stark. American Indians are 50 percent more likely than others to have a substance use disorder, 60 percent more likely to commit suicide, twice as likely to smoke, twice as likely to die during childbirth, three times more likely to die from diabetes and five times more likely to die from tuberculosis. They die on average five years sooner than other Americans.

The Trump administration has pledged to make tribal health care systems more effective. During one of his confirmation hearings, new Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told senators the administration would welcome opportunities to improve the $5 billion Indian Health Service, which provides care for 2.2 million American Indians. “It’s unacceptable for us to not be providing high-quality service,” Azar said.

House Passes Bill Critics Say Would Undermine Disability Rights
U.S. Capitol Police remove people in wheelchairs from the gallery

The House on Thursday passed, 225-192, a bill that supporters say would deter predatory lawsuits filed under a landmark disability rights law, over objections from its critics that the bill would undermine decades of progress for access to places like restaurants, theaters and other private establishments.

The bill would require potential plaintiffs to notify businesses who aren’t in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act before filing a lawsuit. As originally written, it would give the businesses six months to demonstrate their intent to comply, but an amendment adopted on Thursday shortened that timeline to four months.

Democrats Pan Bill Curbing Lawsuits by People With Disabilities
As ADA-related bill consideration gets under way, protest erupts in Rules Committee

Democratic leaders are actively opposing a bill scheduled for a vote in the House later this week that they say would undermine a landmark law providing protections for Americans with disabilities.

The bill would make it harder for disabled individuals claiming discrimination in places such as hotels, restaurants or private schools from filing suit against the business under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Questions Could Derail Confirmation of Trump’s Indian Health Nominee
Robert Weaver was already under scrutiny over his qualifications

President Donald Trump’s nominee to oversee health care services for two million Native Americans — who already faces questions about whether he is qualified — failed to disclose donations to the Trump campaign in his official Senate questionnaire, Roll Call has learned.

Robert Weaver, a health insurance salesman and consultant who was nominated in October to lead the $6.1-billion Indian Health Service, has been touted by the administration as “a staunch advocate of innovative programs to improve Native American health.” But some lawmakers are concerned that the administration inflated his qualifications. The questions surrounding his nomination raise the possibility that he might not have the votes to win confirmation.

HHS Pick Grilled on Drug Prices
Azar pledges to lower cost of prescriptions, but Paul has “doubts”

The nominee to lead the Health and Human Services Department, Alex M. Azar, told a Senate panel that his top priority would be addressing the high price of prescription drugs. But there was skepticism from both sides of the dais at Wednesday’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing that Azar, a former pharmaceutical company executive, would live up to that promise.

While it was mostly Democrats who took aim at Azar’s tenure working for and running the U.S. affiliate of Eli Lilly & Co., Sen. Rand Paul said he would also need to be convinced. The Kentucky Republican pressed Azar on whether he would work on a system to safely import lower-cost prescription drugs from places with comparable systems, like Canada and Europe.