KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Drug Price Effort Hits a Snag

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The high cost of prescription drugs is a top health issue for the public and politicians, but concerns raised by a group of moderate Democrats threaten to derail a bill being pushed by House Democratic leaders.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine for everyone age 12 and up, and Pfizer is applying for full licensure of that vaccine. It is currently being distributed under emergency authorization. Full approval could open the door to vaccine requirements in some workplaces, schools or other gathering spots, which will likely touch off more controversy.

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And the Biden administration reinstated an Obama-era policy barring discrimination in health care for LGBTQ individuals, even as more states pass anti-LGBTQ legislation.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet and Rachel Cohrs of Stat.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

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  • Opposition by a handful of conservative and moderate Democrats to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s proposal to drive down prescription drug prices was a bit of a surprise since some of the members had voted for very similar legislation in the previous Congress. Back then, though, it was clear the bill had no chance of survival in a Republican-controlled Senate. Now the stakes are much higher because Democrats control Congress and the White House.
  • In addition to drugmakers’ clout on Capitol Hill, some resistance to Pelosi’s plan reflects the fact it was written by leadership behind closed doors and didn’t go through the typical committee process, in which members of the House would have had a chance to debate and amend the legislation.
  • Another factor in the dispute is that several of the representatives who signed the letter to the speaker come from areas where drugmakers have large operations and argue that measures to lower prices could cost jobs.
  • The administration announced that more than 1 million people have signed up for health coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces during the special enrollment period established by the Biden administration. The enrollment boost is attributed to enhanced subsidies passed by Congress earlier this year and a strong messaging campaign about the need for insurance by the administration.
  • Democrats in the Senate are pushing forward the nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, despite efforts by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to block her nomination as a protest against Biden administration policies that could cut Medicaid payments to Texas hospitals.
  • If Brooks-LaSure is confirmed, nominations for other key posts at HHS will likely quickly follow, such as the heads of Medicaid and the Health Resources & Services Administration. But there has been no movement on a new commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration.
  • The vaccine advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that children 12 and older not only can safely get the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine, but that it can be given with other vaccines. Health officials had previously recommended that vaccines be spaced apart. Pediatricians, however, are concerned about how many children missed other important vaccinations over the course of the pandemic.
  • Equipping pediatricians to give the vaccine to youngsters may prove vital in getting this age group protected. But the vaccine that has been approved requires the most stringent cold storage, so that may be a hurdle in getting it into doctors’ offices. The administration is looking for ways to make it easier for pediatricians to deliver the shot.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read too:

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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