The Health 202: Democrats forced GOPers to vote on their drug bill. Now the campaign ads are here.


The Health 202: Democrats forced GOPers to vote on their drug bill. Now the campaign ads are here.

THE PROGNOSIS

President Trump and nearly every House Republican opposed Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s drug pricing bill when she held a vote on it last month.

Now, some high-profile Democratic operatives are readying a 2020 campaign to go after vulnerable House and Senate Republicans.

This new “Patients Over Pharma” effort will run ads throughout the election season, according to details provided first to The Health 202.  The goal: To lambaste the GOP for opposing the Pelosi measure and draw attention to the pharmaceutical industry’s influence over the Trump administration.

The campaign will be run by Restore Public Trust, one of three nonprofit groups that teamed up to go after the administration by focusing on industry ties and conflicts of interest. The Democratic operatives wouldn’t detail the kind of ad campaign they’re planning — whether television or web based — but the first ad is slated to start in the coming weeks.

It “will focus on exposing the deep ties between the Trump administration and the pharmaceutical industry, the revolving door between big pharma and the federal government, and how this corruption is hurting patients and preventing any meaningful progress toward reducing the cost of prescription drugs,” said Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, the groups’ umbrella organization.

Democrats are irate that President Trump and Republicans in Congress have been unwilling to give the government power to directly force lower prices from drugmakers — something the Pelosi bill would allow. They argue it’s the only way to bring the country’s drug prices more in line with those of other countries. 

The drug industry, naturally, hates the idea. Pharmaceutical companies spent far more than any other industry last year on lobbying Congress. In the last two election cycles, the industry donated millions to members of both parties, although somewhat more to Republicans.

Meanwhile, Americans continue spending more on prescription drugs than anyone else in the world. Costs average about $1,200 per person per year. It’s typical for cancer drugs to cost $10,000 a month.

Yet high drug prices are an area where Trump desperately wants to appeal to voters. His top health officials spent the past 18 months working on policies aimed at lowering drug prices, including a plan issued last month to allow some cheaper drugs to be imported from Canada.

But his administration also hit several walls, walking back a planned crackdown on pharmacy middlemen and defending in court its requirement for drugmakers to display list prices in TV ads. 

For a time, it appeared that the divided House and Senate might be able to work together. But a bipartisan bill from the Senate Finance Committee languished on the sidelines as Pelosi led House Democrats in passing their own legislation. Lawmakers could take another stab in May, when they’ll have to extend funding for community health centers, but that’s far from certain in an election year.

It appears more likely that the drug pricing efforts will amount to little more than campaign fodder. The Patients Over Pharma campaign shows Democrats think they can successfully leverage it to Republicans’ detriment.

Several veteran Democrats have a hand in the effort. The board of Accountable.US includes Brad Woodhouse, president of Protect Our Care, a similar group that goes after Republicans for trying to undermine the Affordable Care Act. 

The board also includes Mindy Myers, a close adviser to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Shripal Shah, vice president of the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century.

AHH, OOF and OUCH

AHH: Kansas’s Democratic governor and the state’s top Republican lawmaker announced a bipartisan proposal yesterday to expand the state’s Medicaid program. 

“Today, I am proud to stand with Sen. Denning to announce we have taken a crucial bipartisan step toward making Kansas the 37th state to expand Medicaid,” Gov. Laura Kelly said at the Thursday announcement. 

The plan “would give Kelly the straightforward expansion of state health coverage that she has advocated, covering as many as 150,000 additional people. But Denning would get a version of a program that he has proposed for driving down private health insurance premiums to make it less likely people would drop existing private plans for Medicaid,” the Associated Press’s John Hanna reports. 

The expansion plan would extend coverage to residents making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Expanded coverage would begin at the start of 2021. 

Although the state legislature will need to pass the bill, the endorsement from Dennings all but makes that a done deal. 

OOF: More people are killing themselves at work. In 2018, there were 304 workplace suicides, an 11 percent increase from the year before. It was also the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking such data, our Washington Post colleague William Wan reports. 

The rising suicide rates in the country are spurring new questions for businesses, as executives wonder how they can counsel and support those who may have witnessed a death, or what information is appropriate to share internally about it.

“The number of other fatalities in workplaces has steadily declined even as workplace suicides have increased, the [Bureau of Labor of Statistics] reported,” William adds. “As in past years, the agency cautioned the newly released number of 304 probably undercounts the total because they mostly include those that happen at the work site or off-site while someone was engaged in work, but determining such a relationship is often difficult. The count also does not include ambiguous deaths, such as from drug overdoses.” 

OUCH: A new study suggests a connection between increasing the minimum wage and a decrease in suicide rates among adults ages 18 to 64 — just a $1 wage minimum wage increase corresponds with a 3.4 to 5.9 percent drop in suicide rates among those in the age group with a high school diploma or less, our Post colleague Eli Rosenberg reports

The research is the latest to look at the connection between public health and economic conditions. 

“Suicide is one of a handful of ‘deaths of despair’ that some researchers have connected to other social and economic issues,” Eli writes. “Despite the economy’s robust growth in recent years, preventable deaths such as those linked to alcoholism, suicide and drug overdoses have risen, and that’s one of the main reasons that U.S. life expectancy has declined for three years in a row.” 

“Our findings are consistent with the notion that policies designed to improve the livelihoods of individuals with less education, who are more likely to work at lower wages and at higher risk for adverse mental health outcomes, can reduce the suicide risk,” the researchers wrote.

TRUMP TEMPERATURE

— Trump appeared to take credit for the record decline in the cancer death rate in 2017, which is the year he entered the White House. 

The tweet followed the American Cancer Society’s report out this week that the cancer mortality rate declined 2.2 percent in 2017, which was the biggest single-year drop ever reported. 

The American Cancer Society told CNN it was incorrect to suggest the current administration played a role in the decline. 

“Gary M. Reedy, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, told CNN that the 2017 findings are not connected to the actions of the Trump administration,” CNN’s Jacqueline Howard and Daniel Dale report.

“Since taking office, the president has signed multiple spending bills that have included increases in funding for cancer research at the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute — though the impact of those increases are not reflected in the data contained in this report,” Reedy said. 

STATE SCAN

— California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) wants the state to be the first in the nation to sell its own generic prescription drug brand.

Newsom is hoping to use the state’s purchasing power to lower health-care costs, the Wall Street Journal’s Christine Mai-Duc and Jared S. Hopkins report. The governor is expected to announce the plan as part of his new state budget, but a summary released by his administration said it would contract with generic drugmakers and make the drugs available to all Californians. 

“Few details were provided about how the plan would work, what kind of drugs it would produce, how much it would cost to enact or how much it might save the state—things that are likely to be studied in more depth as debate over the state budget begins in the coming months,” Christine and Jared write. 

“The proposal is likely to face opposition from the pharmaceutical industry, but could find many supporters in the California legislature, where Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses,” they add. 

— And here are a few more good reads: 

AGENCY ALERT

INDUSTRY RX

MEDICAL MISSIVES

REPRODUCTIVE WARS

DAYBOOK

Coming Up

  • The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations holds a hearing on “Assessing the Adequacy of DHS Efforts to Prevent Child Deaths in Custody” on Jan. 14. 
  • The House Financial Services Committee holds a hearing on “How the Affordable Housing Crisis and the Gentrification of America Is Leaving Families Vulnerable” on Jan. 14. 

SUGAR RUSH




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