Welcome to Tuesday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re gearing up for the last Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses. Expect questions on Medicare for All and keep a close eye for any jabs between Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Back in Washington, a House panel is set to examine federal marijuana policies, lawmakers are expressing alarm over a rise in cocaine overdose deaths, and Democrats want the HHS inspector general to keep an eye on Tennessee’s Medicaid waiver.
But we’ll start with a look at how the drug industry is handling the US-Mexico trade deal…
Big Pharma looks to stem losses after trade deal defeat
The pharmaceutical industry suffered a rare loss in the North American trade deal the Senate will pass as soon as this week, but they’re not waging a full-scale battle against the agreement.
Sources familiar with the strategy say the industry is working to get senators on record in support of including the market exclusivity protections it lost in this deal in future trade agreements with other countries but that drug companies are also not trying to get GOP senators to vote against the USMCA, a likely impossible task.
Instead, the industry, worried about the precedent this deal sets, is trying to stem its losses and build support for including the intellectual property protections in future trade deals with countries like China.
Sign of things to come? Both sides in the fight over high drug prices wonder whether the industry loss is a sign of more sweeping changes to come as other legislation looms.
“My hope is that we’re starting to see senators be more independent on pharma issues,” Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said in an interview. But he noted that the lessons from the trade deal for the broader drug pricing debate can only go so far because “the coalitions for trade are different than they are on pharmaceuticals.”
House panel set to examine federal marijuana policies
A House panel on Wednesday is set to examine some of the barriers to marijuana research amid a growing disconnect between federal and state policies.
“There is a chasm between the federal laws and what over 30 states are doing,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) told The Hill in an interview Tuesday.
Eshoo, the chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, said she wants to hear from officials at the Food and Drug Administration, as well as the Drug Enforcement Agency explain why the federal government is potentially blocking research into the effects of marijuana.
Marijuana is a Schedule I drug, meaning it is in the same category as drugs like heroin and LSD. According to the federal government, it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value.
The hearing is expected to explore the barriers to cannabis research, federal efforts to review and approve cannabidiol (CBD) products, as well as several pieces of cannabis-related legislation.
House GOP reopens investigation into opioid manufacturers
The top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee is reopening an investigation into three drug companies that make opioids over their role in the epidemic of overdose deaths.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), along with Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), sent letters on Tuesday to the companies with new questions about whether they could have done more earlier to stem the tide of opioid-related deaths.
The lawmakers wrote to Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals and Insys Therapeutics, following up on letters sent in August 2018 and requesting more information.
- Pressing Purdue, the maker of OxyContin, which helped drive the epidemic, about evidence that it knew about the drug being abused as early as 1997.
- Asking Mallinckrodt about a company official’s comments in a deposition that she alerted management in 2008 that its suspicious-order-monitoring system was faulty.
Lawmakers express alarm over rise in cocaine overdose deaths
The bipartisan leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are raising alarm over an increase in overdose deaths from cocaine and methamphetamine.
The lawmakers wrote to the Trump administration requesting a briefing on the fight against these drugs by Feb. 4.
While much attention has been placed on the epidemic of deaths from opioids, the lawmakers point out that overdose deaths from other kinds of drugs have been increasing in recent years and should not fly under the radar.
“We are concerned that while the nation, rightly so, is devoting much of its attention and resources to the opioid epidemic, another epidemic–this one involving cocaine and methamphetamine–is on the rise,” wrote Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.).
Democrats warn against Tennessee Medicaid block grant
A pair of Democrats from the House and Senate want a government watchdog to make sure Tennessee does not abuse funding if the Trump administration approves the state’s request to block-grant Medicaid.
In a letter sent Tuesday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) urged the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General to “exercise vigorous oversight” if Tennessee’s waiver request is granted.
Tennessee’s waiver request would cap the amount of federal funding the state receives to provide care for Medicaid beneficiaries. If approved, it could be the first block grant–type program in the nation.
Wyden and Pallone said the system would create a financial incentive for Tennessee to cut coverage benefits for consumers.
“The scheme promoted by the administration and embodied in the Tennessee waiver proposal would threaten beneficiary access to care in many ways, including all but ensuring Medicaid dollars are diverted by purposes not allowed under federal law,” Pallone and Wyden wrote.
What we’re reading
A forerunner in ‘smart pills’ adopts a new tack as key pharma partnership unravels (Stat News)
New York drug distributor exits opioids after admitting role in crisis (Reuters)
Eli Lilly to offer half-priced versions of two more insulin products (Reuters)
State by state
ObamaCare demand remains high in Florida as enrollment nears 2 million (Tampa Bay Times)
Loopholes limit new California law to guard against lofty air ambulance bills (Kaiser Health News)
Dems criticize West Virginia AG proposal to protect pre-existing conditions (Weirton Daily Times)