Ways and Means Advances Bipartisan Drug Pricing Bill

The House Ways and Means Committee unanimously advanced bipartisan prescription drug pricing legislation last week. H.R. 2113, the Prescription Drug Sunshine, Transparency, Accountability, and Reporting (STAR) Act, was introduced by Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and aims to increase drug price transparency. It would require manufacturers that raise the price of a drug by 10 percent or by $10,000 in one year to report to federal officials the reason for such increase. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle stressed that the STAR Act is not the final answer and that work will continue to address the rising cost of prescription drugs.

House Committees Move to Block Short-Term Plan Rule

The House Education and Labor Committee has advanced legislation to block the Trump administration’s expansion of short-term, limited-duration health insurance plans. H.R. 1010, which was previously approved by the Energy and Commerce Committee, was agreed to by a party line vote of 26-19. The legislation would overturn the 2018 Trump administration rule promoting the sale of such plans, which do not have to comply with all of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) consumer protections. The rule allows short-term plans to be sold for up to a year, with the option to renew for up to three years. The plans were previously allowed to be sold for only three months. Republicans argue that the administration’s rule increases access to affordable insurance options for those who have been priced out of the individual market.

FY 2020 Budget Update

House Democrats were forced to cancel a vote on top-line budget numbers because of intra-party disagreement. The bill (H.R. 2021) would have increased defense spending in 2020 by $17 billion for a total of $664 billion, and increased nondefense spending by $34 billion for a total of $631 billion. Some progressive Democrats, however, were insistent that nondefense spending be raised to the same level as defense spending. Additionally, some more centrist members had expressed concerns that the appropriations figures did not do enough to reduce spending over time. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) planned to offer an amendment to the measure that would allow a $10 billion cap adjustment in FY 2020 and $12 billion in 2021 to fund the VA MISSION Act. House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) had expressed support for the amendment. On the Senate side, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had announced that Democrats and Republicans will form a staff-level working group to negotiate a final spending deal.

Senate Finance Requests Info on PBM Pricing Practices

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have written to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) requesting an analysis of spread pricing practices utilized by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). Spread pricing occurs when PBMs reimburse pharmacies for less than what they charge health plans for a product. The lawmakers request a federallevel analysis of PBMs’ use of spread pricing across state Medicaid programs, including practices that may allow for “inappropriate profiteering and potential anti-competitive practices.”

House Dems Pressure White House for Details on ACA Lawsuit

House Democrats have written to Trump administration officials requesting documents related to the decision to not defend the ACA in court. The chairmen of the Judiciary, Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Oversight and Reform, and Education and Labor committees have written to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Attorney General William Barr, and HHS Secretary Alex Azar seeking information related to the individuals within the administration who supported the decision calling for the ACA to be overturned and asking which officials knew the potential ramifications of the court proceedings. They also request the legal justification for refusal to defend the law and request that administration attorneys testify before Congress.

OIG, Grassley Highlight HHS Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has requested information on HHS’ cybersecurity policies following an OIG report that found security controls at the department need improvement to more efficiently detect and prevent certain cyberattacks. The watchdog agency identified vulnerabilities in configuration management, access control, data input control, and software patching. Grassley requests details from Secretary Azar on his plans to mitigate the vulnerabilities found in the OIG audit.

House Launches Black Maternal Health Caucus

The Black Maternal Health Caucus was launched last week by a group of House Democrats. The Caucus, which was formed by Reps. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) and Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), will focus on the need for more research and policies aimed at improving black maternal health. It currently has 51 members. African-American women are nearly four times more likely than white women to die from preventable, pregnancy-related complications.

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