Zika Update

Senior health officials announced last week that the threat of the Zika virus is wider than originally thought, and that the mosquitos that carry and transmit the virus are present in as many as 30 states, up from the original 12 predicted. Additionally, it is now believed that the virus can affect women throughout their entire pregnancy, rather than just during their first trimester, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC went on to officially confirm that there is conclusive evidence that the Zika virus increases the risk of the birth defect known as microcephaly. Officials also said that there is a growing link between the virus and neurological conditions as well as premature birth. The Administration continues to reiterate their request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat the virus, especially in areas like Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands of cases are expected. Also last week, the House of Representatives passed by voice vote S. 2512, the Adding Zika Virus to the FDA Priority Review Voucher Program Act. The bill will add the virus to the list of tropical diseases under the program, which awards a voucher to the sponsor of a new drug or biological that is approved to treat or prevent a tropical disease. The voucher can be used to get an expedited review of any drug of the sponsor’s choosing, or be sold on the open market. The voucher could get a drug on the market up to three months sooner than it normally would. The legislation passed the Senate by unanimous consent last month. While the White House has said that the President will sign the bill, it was nonetheless criticized by the administration for its lack of
actual dollars to combat the virus. Although the House Appropriations Committee rejected a Democratic attempt to attach such emergency supplemental funding to the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon/VA) appropriations bill, Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) noted that staff has begun work on separate Zika legislation, and the panel went on to approve a substitute amendment that would direct the administration to use unobligated Ebola funding in the immediate future for the purpose of fighting Zika.

Changes Possible to Part B Proposed Payment Model

Chief Medical Officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Patrick Conway has said that the agency is open to suggestions on the major elements of the Medicare Part B proposal that would change the way doctors are paid to administer drugs in their offices. Concerns about the size and the scope of the Part B plan have been raised by lawmakers, including, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.). CMS is accepting comments on the proposed model through May 9.

HHS Report Indicates Small Premium Increases

A new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) indicates that insurance premiums on the exchanges will rise by four percent on average for people receiving tax credits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). For the 15 percent of people not receiving tax credits, premiums will increase by eight percent on average. These are relatively small increases compared to the double-digit premium hikes initially proposed by insurers. The report highlights that 43 percent of consumers returning to HealthCare.gov chose a new plan for 2016 and were able to reduce their premiums.

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