Trump Readying Drug Pricing Executive Orders, Official Says

FiercePharmaPolitics—Trump readying drug pricing executive orders ...

Source: Fierce Pharma, by Eric Sagonwsky

Multiple crises might be roiling the U.S. these days, but drug pricing is still on President Donald Trump’s mind.

After a bipartisan drug pricing effort fell apart in Congress, Trump is getting ready to sign three executive orders on drug pricing, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told “Lou Dobbs Tonight” last week. Meadows didn’t offer details, but he said the orders will “substantially make sure that the average American gets to pay less for their prescription drugs.”

Trump campaigned to shake up drug pricing before the 2016 election, and, after winning, he said drug companies were “getting away with murder”—and he’d make sure that stopped.

But enacting changes to the drug pricing system has proven tough for the Trump administration. In May 2018, officials rolled out a drug-pricing blueprint that aimed to boost competition and price negotiations, plus crack down on anticompetitive behavior in the industry. Officials have also sought to take on rebates and implement drug importation, but they scrapped the rebate proposal after a review from the Congressional Budget Office.

Another administration effort to force drug prices into TV ads faced legal pushback from the drug and advertising industries. Last month, several companies prevailed in their lawsuit against the measure.

Pharma companies still enjoy broad pricing freedoms in the U.S. despite those efforts, but the scrutiny itself has put a damper on price increases in recent years. Though pharma companies continue to hike prices, they’re marking up stickers on fewer drugs and by lower margins.

Now, though, after Congress couldn’t come to an agreement on the issue, Trump is reportedly readying those executive orders.

Meadows’ comments come after a drug pricing effort by Sen. Charles Grassley lost steam. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month, Grassley wrote that Democrats “have left the negotiating table” in pursuit of “political gain.” Republicans, meanwhile, are “sitting on their hands” and “throwing the taxpayers we claim to champion under the bus.”

Meanwhile, some pharma companies are moving forward with midyear price hikes even amid the pandemic. AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Sanofi were among companies that have raised dozens of prices by low single-digit percentages in July, according to GoodRx.

Remdesivir, The First Coronavirus Drug, Gets A Price Tag

Remdesivir, the First Coronavirus Drug, Gets a Price Tag - The New ...

Source: The New York Times, by Gina Kolata

Remdesivir, the first drug shown to be effective against the coronavirus, will be distributed under an unusual agreement with the federal government that establishes nonnegotiable prices and prioritizes American patients, health officials announced on Monday.

The arrangement may serve as a template for distribution of new treatments and vaccines as the pandemic swells, said Ernst Berndt, a retired health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.

Remdesivir will be sold for $520 per vial, or $3,120 per treatment course, to hospitals for treatment of patients with private insurance, according to the Department of Health and Human Services and Gilead Sciences, the drug’s manufacturer.

The price will be set at $390 per vial, or $2,340 per treatment course, for patients on government-sponsored insurance and for those in other countries with national health care systems.

The drug will be sold only in the United States through September, meaning American patients will receive almost the entirety of Gilead’s output, more than 500,000 treatment courses.

H.H.S. and state health departments have been allocating the drug to hospitals nationwide based on need. After September, they will no longer have a role in determining where the drug is sent.

“This is a U.S.-first policy,” said Rena Conti, a health care economist at Boston University. “Access is guaranteed to the U.S., but worldwide demand could potentially outstrip supplies.”

“I am unaware of any other policy except perhaps in bioterrorism drugs where there might be country-specific supplies,” she added.

Remdesivir is so far the only treatment shown to speed recovery time in severely ill coronavirus patients. A large clinical trial, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, found that the drug modestly shortened recovery time by four days, on average, but did not reduce fatalities.

The drug’s eventual cost has always been uncertain. “There is no playbook for how to price a new medicine in a pandemic,” Daniel O’Day, chief executive of Gilead, said in a statement.

Since the drug’s emergency authorization, Gilead has donated remdesivir to hospitals for treatment of patients with Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. The last shipments of donated drug were distributed on Monday.

The new pricing is not exorbitant, many experts said. Other promising drugs now in late-stage testing are already on the market for other purposes, Dr. Conti noted, and cost several times more than remdesivir.

The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, a nonprofit group that calculates fair prices for drugs, estimated that Gilead would need to charge $1,600 per regimen to recoup its costs. But as much as $5,080 per treatment course would be still be a cost-effective price for insurers, given that patients would be able to leave the hospital sooner.

Critics have long accused Gilead of overcharging for groundbreaking drugs, including the first hepatitis C cures and Truvada, a daily pill to prevent H.I.V. infection.

In a statement on Monday, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review warned, “Gilead has the power to price remdesivir at will in the U.S., and no governmental or private insurer could even entertain the idea of walking away from the negotiating table.”

But since many Wall Street analysts were expecting the drug to cost about $5,000 for a course of treatment, the lower price “can be viewed as a responsible decision from Gilead,” the institute added.

Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy group, described the new price as offensive, noting that remdesivir was developed with more than $70 million in public money.

But Jalpa Doshi, of the University of Pennsylvania, noted that one benefit of remdesivir might be intangible. “This treatment and others as well as vaccines may help reduce fear of the virus, an important factor in accounting for its value,” she said.

Just as unusual as the pricing of remdesivir will be its distribution.

The plan is for Gilead to ship the drug to AmerisourceBergen, one of several drug wholesalers that fulfill orders from individual health care providers like hospitals. Until the end of September, AmerisourceBergen will provide remdesivir to hospitals according to need, as described by state health departments and the Department of Health and Human Services.

After September, “once supplies are less constrained, H.H.S. will no longer manage allocation,” Gilead said. It is not clear how patient need will be factored into distribution decisions at that point.

An earlier effort was a fiasco. After remdesivir received emergency authorization in May, Gilead used AmerisourceBergen to allocate the drug. Needy hospitals received none, while hospitals with few coronavirus patients received supplies unasked. H.H.S. and state health departments stepped in to coordinate distribution instead.

The new plan “lets Gilead off the hook,” Dr. Berndt said. If there is more demand than supply this fall, Gilead will not be blamed for decisions about who gets the drug and who does not.

A Department of Health and Human Services official said on Monday that remdesivir would not be stockpiled for the fall, and Gilead said that there would be an adequate supply for all American patients who need it.

But no one really knows what will happen after September, Dr. Conti said: “We will see how access gets rolled out and assured.”

Grassley to Renew Drug-Pricing Push ‘With or Without Democrats’

Long-Delayed Drug-Price Bill Not Dead Yet, Grassley Says - BloombergSource: Bloomberg Tax, by Alex Ruoff

The chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee will push for a vote on his drug-pricing measure without the help of critical allies: Senate Democrats.

Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) will re-introduce a drug pricing package (S. 2543) he assembled with the ranking member of his committee, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and soon call on Senate leaders to allow debate on the measure, Grassley spokesman Michael Zona said.

The senator, term-limited as chairman of the Finance panel after this year, wants his measure included in the next coronavirus legislation and plans to move ahead “with or without Democrats,” Zona said.

The Covid-19 pandemic has both heightened the urgency of reining in pharmaceutical costs yet also made it harder for lawmakers to act. Drugmakers say limiting their profits could hamper efforts to create a vaccine against the virus, but medicines to treat it come with significant price tags. Gilead Sciences Inc. set the price for its widely used Remdesivir at $2,340 for a five-day treatment.

Gilead Chooses Middle Ground in Pricing of Its Coronavirus Drug

Both parties, with control of the Senate up for grabs in the November elections, swapped blame for inaction on drug prices.

“Democrats have left the negotiating table” at the urging of party leaders, Grassley said. “I can only assume the Democratic Party would rather use the issue of drug prices as a political hammer in November’s election than work to address it now,” he said in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Monday. “Perhaps they hope to pass more left-leaning legislation next year, if they win more power.”

Democrats are “not interested in aiding Republicans as they play political games and pretend to support lowering prescription drug prices,” Wyden said.

“Democrats have not walked away from the table on drug pricing—Republicans never showed up in the first place,” Wyden said in a statement. He said there’s no reason to expect the GOP-led chamber to allow a vote on the Grassley-Wyden bill.

Wyden noted that the House passed a measure to direct the government to demand lower prices from drugmakers last year (H.R. 3). Senate leaders, including Grassley, have said they won’t support that bill.

Uphill Battle

Garnering support for the legislation, which would cap drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries and force drug manufacturers to provide Medicare inflation rebates, has been an uphill battle for Grassley over the past year.

He gradually gained backing from more of his fellow Republicans in the Senate, often persuading them one-by-one to make shows of support since last summer. Democrats in the Senate were essential to getting the legislation even out of the Finance Committee, which approved it with the support of 13 Democrats and six Republicans in July 2019.

Grassley has previously said he needs at least 25 Republican co-sponsors to get his bill to the floor and sees backing from the White House as important in getting more votes. About a dozen Republicans other than Grassley have so far publicly expressed support for the legislation.

Grassley said he asked President Donald Trump earlier this month in a caucus meeting if he would support his legislation. Trump, who has backed the bill, gave an “emphatic yes,” Grassley said.

The Grassley-Wyden package would create a rebate system in Medicare Part B and Part D beginning in 2022 for brand-name drugs and biological products with prices that increase faster than inflation. Conservative groups and some Senate Republicans have opposed the rebate system for Part D, the prescription drug benefit program, but not for Part B, the outpatient services program.

Appeals Court Says Trump Administration Can’t Force Drugmakers to Disclose Prices

Appeals court says Trump administration can't force drugmakers to ...

Source: The Hill, by John Bowden

A federal appeals court ruled against the Trump administration on Wednesday, finding that it does not have the legal authority to mandate that drug manufacturers display the prices of their medicines in television advertisements.

The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled unanimously against the administration, finding that the Department of Health and Human Services’s rule was unlawful in its scope.

The rule, Judge Patricia Millett wrote in her opinion, is “a sweeping disclosure requirement that is largely untethered to the actual administration of the Medicare or Medicaid programs.”

“Because there is no reasoned statutory basis for its far-flung reach and misaligned obligations, the disclosure rule is invalid and is hereby set aside,” she continued.

The court’s ruling is a blow to the White House’s efforts to drive down prescription drug prices, a key issue cited by Americans in an election year. White House spokesman Judd Deere fired back in a statement to the AP, accusing the court of being part of the “D.C. Swamp.”

“It makes absolutely no sense to keep patients in the dark on the true cost of care, and only the ‘D.C. Swamp’ would support such a thing. While big pharma will do everything they can to avoid even a conversation on their astronomical list prices, President Trump remains committed to making pricing information available prior to the delivery of care,” Deere said.

The president previously vowed to sign a bipartisan bill to reduce prescription drug prices during his 2020 State of the Union address.

“I am calling for bipartisan legislation that achieves the goal of dramatically lowering prescription drug prices,” he said in February. “Get a bill to my desk, and I will sign it into law without delay.”

White House Says Has Sent ‘Principles’ for Drug Pricing Reform to Congress

Image result for Drug Pricing Reform to Congress images

Source: Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump has sent “principles” for drug pricing reform to lawmakers, White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement on Tuesday.

The White House has called for legislation that would:

– “Cap Medicare Part D beneficiary annual out-of-pocket pharmacy expenses

– “Provide an option to cap Medicare Part D beneficiary monthly out-of-pocket pharmacy expenses

– “Offer protection for seniors against the out-of-pocket cost cliff created by ObamaCare

– “Give insurance companies an incentive to negotiate better prices for costly drugs

– “Limit drugmakers’ price increases.”

Pelosi, Seeking to Insulate House Majority, Presses Plan to Lower Health Costs

Image result for Pelosi, Seeking to Insulate House Majority, Presses Plan to Lower Health Costs images

Source: The New York Times, by Sheryl Gay Stolberg

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is preparing to unveil a sweeping plan to lower the cost of health care, moving to address the top concern of voters while giving moderate Democrats who face tough re-election races a way to distance themselves from the Medicare for All plan embraced by the progressive left and derided by Republicans as socialism.

The legislation, timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, is part of a major push by Democrats to position themselves as the party of health care before the 2020 elections. Former President Barack Obama will support the effort, appearing with Ms. Pelosi at American University in Washington on March 23, 10 years to the day he signed the Affordable Care Act into law.

While the measure has little chance of survival in the Republican-controlled Senate, it is the latest evidence that Democratic leaders, determined to protect their House majority and the moderate lawmakers who helped them to power, are looking for ways to distinguish their rank and file from the party’s presidential nominees.

The plan bears no resemblance to Medicare for All, the national health insurance system championed by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the self-described democratic socialist. And it omits a “public option” to create a government-run health insurer, an idea embraced by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic front-runner.

In steering clear of the ideas promoted by both leading presidential candidates, Ms. Pelosi is hoping to protect the so-called front-liners who flipped Republican seats in 2018 and delivered Democrats the majority.

The speaker’s new proposal is aimed at reducing costs under the current health bill, according to people familiar with it, who insisted on anonymity to describe a plan that was not yet public. Details are still being finalized, and Ms. Pelosi — who was to meet Monday evening with Democratic committee chairs to discuss a response to the coronavirus epidemic — has not yet shared them with her rank and file. The speaker’s office declined to comment.

The plan could be unveiled as early as this week, though coronavirus could upend that timeline. In eschewing Medicare for All, Ms. Pelosi is turning away from a proposal that does not have the votes to pass the House and has divided Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Instead, the speaker is expected to propose a series of steps to make health care more cost-effective under the Affordable Care Act, including expanding tax credits and subsidies to help people buy insurance and creating a national program to help cover expenses for those with medical conditions. The plan is expected to spotlight ideas put forth by vulnerable freshmen like Representatives Lauren Underwood of Illinois and Angie Craig of Minnesota.

But Ms. Pelosi’s reluctance to embrace Mr. Sanders’s bold vision may draw the ire of her caucus’ left wing, which is pushing for a vote on Medicare for All. Her decision to shy away from the public option is especially notable, given that the House included such a system when it passed its version of the Affordable Care Act in 2009. The provision was later stripped out by the Senate.

“I think it’s way too cautious an approach,” said Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California and a national co-chairman of Mr. Sanders’s campaign, though he added that Democrats would most likely embrace any plan that lowered costs, even incrementally.

“No one is opposed to a pragmatic step that’s feasible,” he said. “What we’re opposed to is a lack of imagination and boldness in not giving a vote on policies that economics and health experts are saying is what the country needs.”

But Leslie Dach, a Democratic strategist and the chairman of Protect Our Care, an advocacy group, said it was important for Democrats to spotlight what they could agree on, especially after a string of presidential primary debates where Democrats beat up one another over their health care plans instead of going after President Trump.

“If you do the polling, 80 percent of the people want to lower costs, and they want to protect critical things like pre-existing conditions. That unifies the country and unifies the party,” Mr. Dach said. “What we have had is a debate with tremendous missed opportunities. Democrats should have been up there reminding people what Donald Trump has been doing to their health care, not arguing as much about where they want to go.”

Polls show the public is deeply concerned about the high cost of health care but divided over what to do about it. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a slight majority of respondents — 53 percent — favored a Medicare for All approach that would cover everyone on a single government plan. A much larger majority, 65 percent, favored a public option.

Republicans have latched onto Mr. Sanders and Medicare for All as a way to paint Democrats as socialists, a strategy that is unlikely to change no matter what proposal Ms. Pelosi puts forth or who becomes the Democratic nominee.

“Voters have watched as the Democratic Party has moved further and further left, to the point where now a majority of their members support canceling private health care entirely for BernieCare,” said Dan Conston, the president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee affiliated with House Republicans. Such positions, he said, “make the argument that Democrats have become socialists a particularly effective one, no matter how much they now try to run away from it.”

The Affordable Care Act anniversary comes as the law itself is in fresh peril. It has survived numerous Republican attempts and a vow by Mr. Trump to repeal it, as well as a string of court challenges.

But the Supreme Court, which has twice ruled to leave most of the provisions intact, recently agreed to hear a third case, which could wipe out the Affordable Care Act entirely. When Democrats took over the House in January 2019, they voted to intervene in the case, Texas v. U.S., which was brought by conservative state attorneys general seeking to overturn the law.

Democrats campaigned aggressively in 2018 on lowering costs and protecting health coverage, and they have already taken some steps to make good on those promises.

In May, they passed legislation to reverse Trump administration rules that allowed the expansion of health care plans that did not have to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s mandated coverage of pre-existing medical conditions. And in December, the House voted to lower the rising cost of prescription drugs by empowering the federal government to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers.

But like most legislation passed by House Democrats, the two health bills are languishing in the Senate, where Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, refuses to take them up.

The legislation Ms. Pelosi is drafting is based in part on the Protecting Pre-Existing Conditions & Making Health Care More Affordable Act, a measure introduced about a year ago by the three chairmen whose committees have jurisdiction over health care: Representative Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the Energy and Commerce chairman; Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the Ways and Means chairman; and Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia, the Education and Labor chairman.

That bill aims to lower health insurance premiums by expanding eligibility for premium tax credits beyond 400 percent of the federal poverty line. It also increases the size of tax credits for people in all income brackets. It would create a so-called reinsurance program, which would provide government funds to help insurers offset the cost of patients with expensive medical conditions. And it would make subsidies more generous for people with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty line.

Other Democrats, including Ms. Underwood and Ms. Craig, have put forth similar ideas. Ms. Underwood is the chief sponsor of a stand-alone plan to expand tax credits. Ms. Craig is promoting federal funding for states to run their own programs to reduce insurance premiums.

It is measures like Ms. Pelosi’s — not the kind of systemwide overhaul advocated by Mr. Sanders — that House Democrats want to focus on as they seek to maintain their majority.

“Our front-liners have been very focused on their message, which has been strengthening the A.C.A., making sure we’re continuing to cover pre-existing conditions, and making sure that we resist the constant cuts to Medicaid and Medicare and even Social Security that have been proposed,” said Representative Katherine M. Clark, Democrat of Massachusetts and a member of the leadership. “Whatever’s happening on the national level, I don’t think their strategy is going to change.”

Extended-Release Drugs Could Be Costing U.S. Healthcare System Billions

Image result for Extended-Release Drugs Could Be Costing U.S. Healthcare System Billions images

Source: The New York Times

If doctors prescribed short-acting medications that must be taken twice a day instead of once-a-day extended-release versions, billions in healthcare costs could be saved, a new study suggests.

Based on Medicare and Medicaid spending between 2012 and 2017, prescriptions for extended-release drugs cost the healthcare system almost $14 billion more than would have been spent on equivalent twice-a-day medications, researchers report in JAMA Network Open.

“It’s not a huge difference in terms of patient convenience, but the cost difference is remarkable,” said coauthor Dr. Ambarish Pandey of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Pandey and colleagues looked specifically at drugs whose benefits in a twice-a-day version are equivalent to those of the extended-release version. While it’s argued that patients are more likely to stick with their medication schedule if the drug is taken once a day, that hasn’t been proven, Pandey said. “There might be a difference if it was three times a day,” he allowed.

To analyze how much extended-release medications were adding to health-system costs, Pandey’s team reviewed records from the Medicare Part D Prescription data set and the Medicaid Spending and Utilization Data set for 2012 through 2017.

The Medicare database includes medication expenditures for approximately 70% of all beneficiaries of Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people aged 65 and older and the disabled. The Medicaid database contains spending for outpatient drugs by state agencies that administer the federal-state Medicaid insurance program for low-income families.

The researchers winnowed down their list of medications to 20 drugs, which had 37 formulations, 19 of them brand-name and 18 generic.

In 2017, Medicare Part D spent $2.2 billion and Medicaid spent $952 million on extended-release versions of those drugs. The researchers estimate that swapping twice-daily versions for all extended-release formulations that year would have saved Medicare and Medicaid a total of $2.6 billion.

Over the entire 2012-2017 study period, Medicare Part D spent $12 billion on extended-release formulations while Medicaid spent $5.9 billion, and a switch to twice-daily versions would have saved $13.7 billion, they conclude.

The way to fix the problem is for insurers to demand that drug companies reduce extended-release costs to the point where the price is comparable to that of the twice-a-day version, Pandey said.

“If Medicare puts its foot down and says it won’t put the extended-release versions on their formulary unless the price is similar to that of the immediate-release formulations, things will change,” he said.

What’s interesting about this paper is the concept of trying to reduce medication cost by switching drugs rather than trying to get a decrease in price from the pharmaceutical company, said Dr. Walid Gellad, director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing.

Gellad commended the authors for focusing on drugs that had a short-acting version with the same therapeutic effects as the extended-release version and for looking only at short-acting drugs that would be taken twice a day as opposed to three or more times a day.

But, Gellad said, that doesn’t mean the drugs are completely comparable. “For example, the diabetes drug metformin is one of the big drivers of savings, but the problem is, a lot of patients get stomach upset with the short-acting form,” he explained.

“Having said that, there are many instances where people could use the short-acting form and wouldn’t be burdened with side effects and would do just as well as with the extended-release form,” Gellad said. “One of the main messages for clinicians is that we should always offer the short-acting form to our patients if they can’t afford the long-acting version.”

Trump Administration Says Drug Makers Will Work Together to Combat Coronavirus

Image result for Trump Administration Says Drug Makers Will Work Together to Combat Coronavirus images

Source: Reuters, by Jeff Mason

The Trump administration said on Monday it had secured commitments from top pharmaceutical companies to work together to develop a vaccine and treatments to fight the coronavirus.

At a meeting with industry executives at the White House, President Donald Trump exhorted the companies to collaborate to speed the process of getting a vaccine and therapeutics to victims of the virus.

The company leaders indicated a willingness to cooperate with one another, but did not lay out how that would happen.

The White House, which has clashed previously with the pharmaceutical industry over high drug prices and has been struggling in recent weeks to show it is on top of the virus response, saw the meeting as a victory.

“This is all hands on deck. And the news out of this meeting that you’ve already formed a consortia … now we know they will be working together to create therapeutics and ultimately a new vaccine,” Vice President Mike Pence said as the session drew to a close.

The global death toll from the illness caused by the new coronavirus now exceeds 3,000, with more than 60 countries affected. In the United States, there have been more than 90 cases, with six deaths.

Trump pressed the representatives at the table about their timeframes for getting a vaccine ready and took upbeat comments from some of the company leaders to mean that it could be ready to deploy within months.

“You seem to know what the answer is to this,” Trump said. “Get it done. We need it.”

Pressed on whether the vaccine would be ready in the short timeframe he desired, Trump said he had heard from the leaders at the table a range of three to four months to a year. But Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases, stepped in and urged those at the table to correct the president’s impression.

“He’s asking the question: When is it going to be deployable? And that is going to be at the earliest a year to a year and a half,” Fauci said.

Trump, who has sought to suggest a vaccine would be ready before health professionals have indicated, followed up after Fauci’s comments: “You think that’s right?”

Attendees assured him that treatments, rather than a vaccine itself, could be ready before that.

Attendees included the chief executives of Gilead Sciences Inc, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc, Moderna Inc and GlaxoSmithKline Plc as well as research and development executives from Pfizer Inc, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi SA, all of which are working on vaccines or treatments for the virus.

Even with Trump voicing hope that the companies can accelerate their development as much as possible, executives and other experts have suggested that clinical trials to guarantee a vaccine is safe and effective could mean that it could take a minimum of 12 to 18 months to hit the market.

Antiviral treatments could possibly move faster toward approval.

Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, Mikael Dolsten, told Trump the company had identified compounds that had a high probability of being effective against the virus.

After the meeting, Pfizer said in a statement it had identified some antiviral compounds it owns as potential treatments for coronaviruses and was working with a third party to evaluate them.

It said if they proved to be good candidates and passed toxicology studies, it hoped to start testing them clinically by the end of the year.

Survey: 20 Million Americans Have Crowdfunded to Help Pay Medical Bills

Image result for Survey: 20 Million Americans Have Crowdfunded to Help Pay Medical Bills images

Source: The Hill, by Jessie Hellmann

An estimated 8 million Americans have started crowdfunding campaigns through websites like GoFundMe to pay for medical expenses for themselves or someone in their households, according to a survey released Wednesday,

Another 12 million Americans said they have started a campaign for someone else, according to the NORC at the University of Chicago survey.

Twenty percent of Americans said they donated to such campaigns.

The proliferation of these online fundraisers to pay for medical bills is a symptom of the increasing costs of health care, even for those who have insurance.

“As annual out-of-pocket costs continue to rise, more Americans are struggling to pay their medical bills, and millions are turning to their social networks and crowdfunding sites to fund medical treatments and pay medical bills,” said Mollie Hertel, a senior research scientist at NORC, in a press release.

“Although about a quarter of Americans report having sponsored or donated to a campaign, this share is likely to increase in the face of rising premiums and out-of-pocket costs,” Hertel added.

GoFundMe casts itself as the “leader in online medical fundraising,” with 250,000 medical campaigns launched on its website each year.

“I would love nothing more than for ‘medical’ to not be a category on GoFundMe,” the website’s CEO, Rob Solomon, told Kaiser Health News last year.

“The reality is, though, that access to health care is connected to the ability to pay for it. If you can’t do that, people die. People suffer. We feel good that our platform is there when people need it,” he added.

The NORC survey found 85 percent of respondents thought the government should be responsible for providing help when medical care is unaffordable.

Eighty-three percent said the same of hospitals or clinics.

The poll was conducted between Nov. 8 and Nov. 16, 2019, and included 1,020 interviews with a nationally representative sample. It has a margin of error of 4 percent.

Trump’s Support for Bipartisan Senate Drug Pricing Bill May Not Be Enough to Push it Into Law

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, center, shakes hands with Sen. Ted Cruz as Sen. Charles E. Grassley waits before President Trump delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill on Feb. 4.  (Leah Millis/AP)

Source: Washington Post, by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Erica Werner

Senate bill to control prescription drug prices seemed to have everything it needed: bipartisan backing, President Trump’s endorsement and broad public support.

But its status on legislative life support reveals the perils of tackling one of the nation’s most hot-button topics just months before a presidential election. Even though Trump has said he supports the measure, he has stopped far short of trying to ensure its passage.

Complicating matters further, the top Senate Republican and Democrat have yet to embrace the legislation, though for opposite reasons.

“Everybody agrees that prescription drug prices are too high. The dilemma is how do you get there, and we have divisions in the Republican Party on that, and with the Democrats on that,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Whether we can all pull together and get a solution, I’m not prepared to predict today.”

The proposal, introduced over the summer by Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), would limit price increases in Medicare’s prescription drug benefit to the rate of inflation or otherwise force companies to pay a penalty in the form of a rebate, and it would limit seniors’ out-of-pocket drug costs to $3,100 a year. Some Republicans have said the legislation is akin to price controls, which they have long abhorred.

Prescription drug prices consistently poll as a top voter concern, as many consumers say they cannot afford their medication and prices often rise year after year. They had shown signs of leveling off recently, but prices on hundreds of drugs rose an average of 5.8 percent in January, according to an analysis from Rx Savings Solutions. Medicare spends more than $100 billion per year on prescription drugs.

Trump has publicly supported the bill through tweets and in his State of the Union address this month, when he called on Congress to pass bipartisan legislation and personally recognized Grassley for his leadership on the issue. Vice President Pence gave the bill a nod of support this month in an interview with Fox News. Yet Trump has not lobbied individual senators to support the measure or personally pressured McConnell for action, said four people familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Throughout the fall, Grassley said that he asked White House advisers to get Trump involved in winning support for the legislation and speaking publicly about it, but that they were reluctant to involve Trump to that degree. Grassley said he “never got a good reason” as to why advisers did not want to involve the president.

After the House began impeachment proceedings in September, however, Trump and White House staff members were largely consumed by working to keep Senate Republicans unified in supporting the president. Advisers avoided strong-arming members on divisive legislative issues. It remains unclear whether Trump will more directly engage in the coming weeks and months.

Meanwhile, McConnell presided over his party’s unsuccessful attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act shortly after Trump took office and has since then shown little interest in revisiting health-care legislation, a divisive issue within the Republican Party. For now, McConnell stands as an obstacle to Grassley’s bill. McConnell has not committed to bringing up the legislation for a vote and indicated that he had little interest in doing so because it divides his caucus.

The pharmaceutical lobby is a major contributor to Republicans, including McConnell, and has spent millions lobbying against the bill. Both the drug industry and influential outside conservative groups have said the Grassley-Wyden bill could stifle innovation and interfere in the free market.

Democrats successfully used health care as a cudgel in the 2018 election, retaking control of the House as they repeatedly accused Republicans of trying to undermine coverage for people with preexisting conditions. They could try to replicate this strategy later this year if no action is taken.

Grassley has repeatedly warned that without a vote on his bill, Republicans could lose their majority in the Senate — especially after House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), passed their own progressive bill late last year to lower drug prices. The House bill would allow Medicare to negotiate the price of up to 250 drugs and includes elements of the Grassley-Wyden bill.

Medicare negotiating is highly popular with the public, with 88 percent of people, including more than 90 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Republicans, favoring allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in October.

Several senior White House and administration officials pointed to Trump’s public declarations of support for the measure and its mention in the State of the Union address as signs that he was on board.

“Many excellent provisions are being considered on Capitol Hill, including Grassley-Wyden, which is a genuine bipartisan approach, and the White House remains in close contact with members as we work to move a solution forward that advances the president’s priorities,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

Trump has shown that his personal involvement in legislation can be key, such as when he backed a divisive criminal justice reform bill in 2018 that ultimately passed the Senate by an overwhelming margin and was signed into law. And in 2017, he toured the country to whip up support for a big tax cut package that eventually won congressional approval.

Grassley pointed to Trump’s support of the bill in the State of the Union as one of the biggest boosts of support he could ask for.

“I can’t just rely upon the president saying that if we put a bill on his desk, he’ll sign it,” Grassley said. “Since the president stated this in his State of the Union message, we’ve had a lot of Republicans express interest that probably wouldn’t have.”

Health care has been top of mind for Trump as he gears up for his reelection bid, and exit polls in Iowa and New Hampshire showed it to be a top issue. Last month, Trump called his Health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar, and yelled at him on speakerphone in the middle of a campaign meeting after he was briefed on internal polls that showed voters trusted Democrats more than Republicans on health care.

Lawmakers face a May deadline over federal funding for community health centers and say they hope to use that deadline to take up other health-related legislation that could address drug pricing and health-care costs. But the effort is complicated by intraparty and partisan divisions, and it remains unclear whether Congress will be able to pass a bill of this magnitude just months before a presidential election.

Grassley said he and Wyden hope to begin discussions with Pelosi in the coming weeks to see if the House would be willing to pass legislation similar to the Senate bill. Some Republicans have expressed skepticism that Democrats would be willing to give Republicans a legislative win on health care, suggesting that instead they plan to use the passage of the House bill to attack Republicans on the campaign trail.

Indeed, although the Grassley-Wyden bill has strong support in the Democratic caucus, it’s uncertain whether Senate Democratic leaders would join an effort to pass it. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he supports the House bill, refusing to say whether he backs the Grassley-Wyden bill.

“We don’t want to settle,” Schumer said. “Our first goal is [the House bill]. Period.”

Those close to McConnell say he is personally opposed to the bill because of price caps it imposes on drug companies and because he does not like to take up legislation that splits his party.

So far, the bill has 12 Republican backers, including several vulnerable senators facing tough 2020 reelection fights. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) endorsed the bill on Tuesday; Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) endorsed it last week; and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also is on board. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) voted for the bill in the Finance Committee despite expressing reservations; he said last week that a “pared-down version” would be more likely to find consensus. Grassley said he hopes to have more Republican support soon, but for now he’s far short of the threshold he believes is necessary to win over McConnell.

For Republicans, inaction on prescription drug pricing legislation would be just their latest failure on health care after they spent much of the Obama administration voting to repeal his Affordable Care Act, only to fail to produce a replacement once Trump took office. The Trump administration is now fighting the ACA in the courts, while still claiming the White House will offer an alternative at some later date that would protect people with pre-existing conditions.

By taking on the narrower issue of lowering prescription drug prices, Grassley sought to focus in on one element of the health care industry that receives bipartisan support. But that’s proving difficult for some GOP senators who know the issue is crucial for their constituents but may not be willing to take on the pharmaceutical industry.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), a freshman senator and supporter of Grassley’s bill, criticized the health care industry for operating as a “monopoly,” something he said his fellow GOP senators have failed to recognize at their own peril. He predicted Democrats will use it against Republicans once more in the election this year.

“It’ll be the one issue they’ve got on us and they’ll try to take it all the way to November of 2020,” Braun said. “And I don’t know that we can say we’ve got much to hang our hat on.”

Last Updated 08/04/2020

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