Marino Withdraws from ONDCP Nomination

Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) withdrew his name as the White House nominee to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDP), a position commonly referred to as the Drug Czar. The announcement follows a Washington Post/60 Minutes investigation into the “Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act,” passed in 2016, which critics claim will weaken the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to intercept suspicious shipments of opioid painkillers. Several Democratic lawmakers, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), had requested that the President withdraw the nomination, due to Marino’s sponsorship and role in passage of the legislation that supposedly hinders the DEA’s ability to enforce anti-drug diversion laws. Without offering additional details, the President also stated that he plans to declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency next week.

Azar Under Consideration for HHS Secretary

Politico has reported that Alex Azar, former Eli Lilly executive, is the frontrunner for the nomination of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary. Azar served as general counsel and deputy secretary at HHS during the second Bush administration, before joining Eli Lilly in June 2007 as Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs. He left the company as head of U.S. operations in January.

No Progress on CHIP Negotiations

Renewed bipartisan negotiations to fund legislation that would extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Community Health Centers, and other public health priorities have stalled. According to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Democrats have yet to provide Republicans with a counter-offer to offset the bill, which would currently be funded through cuts to the Public Health and Prevention Fund and increased premiums for high-income Medicare beneficiaries. Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) has said that Republicans have refused to consider any pay-fors that wouldn’t offset the bill at the expense of other patients in the health care system.

White House Considering Rx Cost Taskforce

Recent reports indicate that President Trump is considering creating a bipartisan task force to investigate the rising cost of prescription drugs. While discussions are still in the early stages, an announcement about the task force could come as early as this week. The President reiterated last week that prescription drug costs are one of his priorities, saying again that drug companies “are getting away with murder.”

States Seek Emergency Injunction

California Attorney General (and former Member of Congress) Xavier Becerra has filed a motion seeking an emergency injunction that would require the federal government to pay cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies. The motion was signed by 18 states and Washington, D.C. President Trump recently announced that he would not continue making the payments, which are required under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but have yet to be appropriated by Congress.

Lawmakers Inquire on Nursing Home Safety

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have written to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requesting details on the agency’s new nursing home preparedness requirements following recent hurricanes in Florida and Texas. Bipartisan leadership on the House Energy and Commerce Committee has also taken steps to investigate recent nursing home resident deaths. The Oversight Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday to exam the Department of Health and Human Services’ public health response and preparedness efforts in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria on Tuesday. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael Burgess, M.D. (R-Texas), Ranking Member Gene Green (D-Texas), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) have contacted the owner of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, LLC, a Florida nursing home that lost 14 residents following Hurricane Irma after their air conditioning failed. In the letter, committee leadership notes they will hear from CMS about the Florida incident and whether the Hollywood Hills facility was in compliance with federal regulations.

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