Pharmaceutical & Life Sciences News

Capsule: Foster Care & Faith, Medicare Buy-In, Drug Quality

Feb. 15, 2019, 11:16 AM

Welcome to Capsule—your weekly dose of health-care news, where we give you a recap of this week’s highs and lows for key players in the health-care industry. You can expect us every Friday morning as a bookend for your week.

Happy post-Valentine’s Day: aka the best time of the year to buy discounted candy. You may have seen the litany of #HealthPolicyValentines yesterday, but the ultimate embarrassing Valentine trophy goes to Insys and the rap it dedicated to its liquid opioid, Subsys. That was probably a low for all music lovers this week. Let’s take a look at some other lows (and highs).

Here’s what ended the week on a high note:

Universal Health Coverage

  • Dozens of Democrat lawmakers in Oregon have taken the first step toward the design and implementation of a universal health-care coverage program that could face final approval by the electorate in a ballot measure, Paul Shukovsky reports.
  • The measure has 39 sponsors so far, including the majority leaders of the Senate and the House. Democrats are running the show thanks to their supermajorities in both chambers and a Democrat as governor. That means no Republican support is required to pass the bill.
  • Meanwhile in the nation’s capital, a group of Democrats introduced a measure to extend Medicare to people at least 50 years old, Alex Ruoff writes. The lawmakers say the proposal is a practical step toward insuring more Americans.
  • That’s not universal coverage of course, but it’s a step toward “Medicare for All,” which theoretically would expand health coverage in the U.S. and make the government the sole insurer for most Americans.

Medicaid Pressure

  • Utah’s governor signed a bill this week that expands Medicaid, but the legislation cuts out 50,000 people from a broader ballot initiative approved in November, Tripp Baltz writes. Not all hope is lost, though, for those Utah citizens looking for broader coverage. There’s still a possibility for full Medicaid expansion if a waiver seeking federal approval for the more limited expansion fall through.
  • Democrats from conservative states are also planning to roll out measures they hope will either entice or pressure their home legislatures to expand Medicaid programs, Alex Ruoff reports. Senators from red and purple states in coming weeks will resurrect a proposal to increase the money available to states newly joining in Medicaid expansion.
  • New Mexico’s new Democratic governor also wants the state to reverse course on Medicaid copayments and premiums promoted by her Republican predecessor, which would expand eligibility and limit certain costs for low-income patients, Brenna Goth writes.

Medical Record Access

  • The federal government is going all in on its goal of electronically sharing medical records with a proposal that would require all Medicare and Medicaid managed care plans to build out app-based systems for accessing the records, James Swann writes.
  • All Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed care plans would be required to share electronic medical claims data through these apps by 2020, the head of the federal Medicare agency said this week.
  • Everyone’s hopeful that there’s some regulatory solution to solve the crushing burden of electronic health records on physicians and ease their struggle for health-care data exchange, a health-care attorney told Swann.

It was a bleak week for others. Here’s whose Thursday closed on a downswing:

Secular Foster Parents

  • The federal government currently allows faith-based groups in South Carolina to take religion into account when placing children in foster homes, Madison Alder writes.
  • In its letter granting a waiver to South Carolina, the Department of Health and Human Services reasoned that free exercise of religion trumps nondiscrimination. Democrats are starting to push back, Jaclyn Diaz and Alder write, and 63 House Democrats want the HHS to take back that waiver.
  • The lawmakers—led by Reps. Katie Hill (Calif.), Sean Maloney (N.Y.) and Angie Craig (Minn.)—called the HHS’s decision “harmful” and said it “undermines the primary rule of child welfare: that the best interests of children come first.”

Drug Quality Confidence

  • Lawmakers’ confidence in drug quality, especially the quality of foreign drugmakers’ products, was highlighted this week when House leaders asked FDA head Scott Gottlieb to explain a string of drug recalls for a popular blood pressure drug, Bloomberg News’ Anna Edney writes.
  • In January, a Bloomberg investigation found that FDA surveillance inspections of foreign and domestic drug manufacturing facilities had fallen in fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2018, even as the agency was approving record numbers of generic drugs.
  • Chinese drugmakers have faced the brunt of the scrutiny. Concerns about potentially HIV-tainted blood products produced by a state-backed company followed by conflicting information from regulators isn’t helping.

Nonprofit Hospitals

  • The Senate Finance Committee plans to take a peek at how nonprofit hospitals are earning their tax-exempt status with scrutiny toward how the Internal Revenue Service enforces those standards, Shira Stein reports.
  • In a Congress in which most of the scrutiny of health care is expected to be led by House Democrats, Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is gearing up for his own investigations, as he has typically done over his career in the Senate.
  • The investigations could bring new attention to an issue that has been on the back burner in the Trump administration.

Thanks for joining us this week and have a great weekend. I’m all ears when it comes to your two cents, tips, critiques, or coordinating exclusive interviews. Send them my way at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee in Washington at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Nora Macaluso at nmacaluso@bloomberglaw.com

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