Health Care — Dems look to add insulin to Schumer-Manchin deal

·6 min read

We are now just hours away from the premiere of Beyoncé’s new album “Renaissance,” her seventh solo album, and the Beyhive can barely contain itself.

Today in health care, lowering the cost of insulin could be back on the agenda, and Democrats make another stab at trying to get COVID-19 funding passed.

Welcome to Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Peter SullivanNathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

Senate Dems want insulin added to Manchin deal

Lowering the cost of insulin might be back in Democrats’ economic package after all.

Senate Democrats are looking at ways to add provisions to lower the cost of insulin into their economic package, according to a Democratic source familiar with the talks.

The move to include insulin measures in the party-line package, which is set to get a vote as soon as next week, comes as a separate bipartisan insulin bill has hit obstacles.

Potential measures to be included are:

  • A $35-per-month cap on what patients have to pay out-of-pocket for the drug

  • Allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prices for insulin

Political impact: Democrats have pointed to the $35 insulin cap in particular in the past as one of the most tangible benefits for consumers in their economic package.

Both of those measures were in earlier versions of Democrats’ economic package, but they were removed earlier this month amid a separate bipartisan effort from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Bipartisan effort hitting obstacles: The Shaheen-Collins insulin effort has faced difficulty in getting the 10 Republican votes needed to pass the Senate in light of the filibuster, though.

Read more here.

Republicans object to $21B COVID funding

There’s a new twist in the ongoing COVID-19 funding saga but no resolution.

Senate Democrats on Thursday unveiled a measure to provide $21 billion in emergency funding to fight COVID-19, but immediately ran into roadblocks from Republicans.

The measure would provide funding for research on improved vaccines that can better combat new variants and allow for the purchasing of additional vaccines, tests and treatments.

Democrats said the measure also could be used to fight “other emerging diseases,”

amid increased talk of needing funding to fight monkeypox as well.

There has been a monthslong battle over COVID-19 funding, however, and the latest move from Democrats did not lead to any signs of the showdown being resolved.

GOP obstacles: “It’s not going anywhere right now,” Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Thursday of Democrats’ COVID-19 funding proposal.

Republicans have long said they do not see an urgent need for the COVID-19 funding and have said any money should be paid for by cuts from previous relief packages.

Read more here.

NEW YORK AG SUES CVS ALLEGING ANTITRUST VIOLATIONS

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) on Thursday filed a lawsuit against CVS Health alleging that the company had violated antitrust laws and forced New York safety net hospitals to exclusively use a company that it owns when filling prescriptions through its pharmacies.

In her suit, James alleges that CVS is carrying out an “anticompetitive scheme” by forcing safety net hospitals within the federal 340B Drug Pricing Program to purchase administrative services through one of its subsidiaries, Wellpartner LLC.

The accusation: CVS allegedly required these hospitals to purchase services through Wellpartner, a third-party administrator (TPA) that it owns, if they wished to process 340B-eligible prescriptions through CVS pharmacies. This requirement was purportedly put in place after the pharmacy chain purchased Wellpartner in 2017.

According to James, CVS forced these hospitals to use its administrative service provider and caused them to either “forgo substantial savings from the 340B program” or lose out on savings they could have gained from using another service, noting there were benefits of having a choice of service providers in a “fully competitive” market.

In a statement to The Hill, CVS said James’s allegations were “without merit” and that it planned to “vigorously” defend itself against the claims.

Read more here.

HOUSE PASSES BILL TO EXPAND COVID-ERA TELEHEALTH SERVICES

The House passed a bill Wednesday to expand telehealth services that were first introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation, titled the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID–19 Act, passed in a 416-12 vote. Eleven Republicans and one Democrat objected to the measure. Two Republicans did not vote.

  • The measure seeks to continue a number of telehealth policies established under Medicare that were first implemented at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the provisions would continue through 2024. 

  • The bill calls for eliminating geographical requirements for receiving telehealth services and increasing the number of originating sites for two years, both of which are meant to grow the number of locations from which an individual can receive telemedicine.

During debate on the House floor Wednesday, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a co-sponsor of the legislation, said the measure will “expand freedom for patients by giving them more flexibility, more capability to use telehealth services.”

“While I know we in this body will continue to have legitimate and important ongoing policy debates about health care, there is, as I said, broad bipartisan agreement for expanding access so that all of our citizens can receive high-quality care. That needs to continue to be a top priority. This bill does just that by allowing more Americans to utilize telehealth services,” she added.

Read more here.

Feds remind insurers to cover birth control for free

Biden administration officials on Thursday reminded insurers that they are legally required to cover contraception services at no cost.

The Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor and Treasury issued guidance reminding insurers of the legal obligation under ObamaCare to provide contraceptive coverage for free.

Officials said the guidance was issued in response to increasing complaints from women and covered dependents about not receiving this coverage. During a briefing with reporters, administration officials would not give any specific examples, but said there are ongoing investigations.

Key quote: “With abortion care under attack, it is critical that we ensure birth control is accessible nationwide, and that employers and insurers follow the law and provide coverage for it with no additional cost,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

  • Advocates are concerned Republican legislatures emboldened by the decision overturning Roe v. Wade could try to outlaw some emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and intrauterine devices, even though they are covered by the law’s mandate.

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Nursing homes are suing the friends and family of residents to collect debts (Kaiser Health News)

  • ‘It’s scary’: gay men confront a health crisis with echoes of the past (New York Times)

  • After Biden COVID recovery, admin launches new booster push (Associated Press)

STATE BY STATE

  • Wolf sues GOP-led legislature to block abortion, voter ID questions from reaching Pa. ballot box (Spotlight PA)

  • Familiar racial disparities emerge in first month of COVID-19 vaccinations for the youngest Texans (Texas Tribune)

  • Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison won’t appeal ruling overturning abortion restrictions (Star Tribune)

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you tomorrow.

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