Senate Finance Schedules Azar Confirmation Hearing

The Senate Finance Committee announced plans to hold a hearing on the nomination of Alex Azar to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on January 9. While Democrats will likely raise questions about rising drug costs and the nominee’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry, Azar is expected to be confirmed by the Senate later this year.

Hatch to Retire at the End of Term

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has announced his plans to retire at the end of the year following seven terms in the Senate. Sen. Hatch was first elected to the Senate in 1976 and is the longest-serving Republican in the chamber. He is the president pro temper of the Senate and has served as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee since 2015. Sen. Hatch is the third in a total of eight Republicans up for reelection this year to announce his retirement. Some expect former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to run for the Utah seat.

340B Lawsuit Dismissed

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has dismissed a lawsuit from the hospital industry aimed at preventing cuts to the 340B drug discount program. A recent final rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reduces Medicare payments to certain hospitals for outpatient drugs purchased under the 340B program by $1.6 billion effective January 1. The Judge found that the plaintiffs, including the American Hospital Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, and America’s Essential Hospitals, failed to provide any concrete claim for reimbursement and were prematurely suing the agency given that the cuts had not yet taken effect. The groups have said that they will continue to pursue the lawsuit and plan to refile their complaint after the reimbursement cuts have taken place.

White House Summarizes 2017 Opioid Epidemic Efforts

The Trump Administration has issued a summary of its actions to combat the opioid crisis in the year 2017. The summary includes U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awards, research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and crackdowns by the Justice Department. The White House has also formally responded to the recommendations from the President’s Opioids Commission on how to fight the misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers, largely endorsing the Commission’s 56 recommendations. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) stated that it will maintain the opioid crisis as a top priority and continue to focus on both preventing new addictions and supporting those suffering from addiction through recovery.

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