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Monthly Legislative Newsletter: October 2020
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Congress Agrees to Continuing Resolution
On Tuesday, September 29th, the Senate passed a Continuing Resolution in order to keep the government open and funded through December 11th. The stop-gap funding bill was passed overwhelmingly, 82-6 with Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Rand Paul (R-KY), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Pat Toomey (R-PA) all voting no. The House had already passed the Continuing Resolution last week, paving the way for President Trump’s signature. He is likely to sign. Funding the government until December 11th gives Congress more time to reach an agreement on the FY21 Appropriations legislation that had already passed the House. Thus far, the Senate has not released or held hearings on their versions of the appropriations bills. It is likely that any sort of funding bill will not be passed until after the election, in a lame duck Congress.

House Democrats Unveil Heroes 2.0 
On Monday, September 28th House Democrats unveiled a paired down COVID-19 relief package that is $1.2 trillion less than the original Heroes Act. This is the latest and potentially final effort to pass another COVID-19 relief package before the Nov. elections. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin is looking to make a deal with House Democrats, and it is expected he will make a counter-offer sometime this week. If Secretary Mnuchin and the House Democrats are unable to make a deal, it is likely that the House will pass Heroes 2.0 as is and then turn their attention to the campaign trail. If they pass the legislation as is and leave town, it is likely there will not be another COVID-19 package before the Nov. elections. You can view a section by section breakdown of the legislation HERE.

Congressional Hearings on Soaring Drug Prices
On Wednesday, September 30th and Thursday, October 1st, the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee is holding a two part hearing on “Unsustainable Drug Prices: Testimony from the CEOs.” This hearing is largely an attempt to continue the efforts of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) efforts to lower drug prices.

Slated for Sept. 30: The CEOs of Bristol Myers Squibb/Celgene and Teva Pharmaceuticals.
Slated for Oct. 1: Executives from Amgen, Mallinckrodt and Novartis.

These two days of hearings are the latest effort by House Democrats to show that they have done more to combat soaring drug prices than the Trump administration. The hearing is focused on the findings from an 18-month investigation into a dozen pharmaceutical companies drug-pricing practices. 

The findings of the investigation detail how pharmaceutical companies increased the prices of various drugs, including cancer treatments. For example, Celgene has raised the price of cancer drug Revlimid 22 times since it launched in 2005. The price of the drug has tripled since it was introduced. The reasons for these price increases are also concerning. For example, the price of Revlimid was increased in 2014 so that Celgene could hit quarterly profit goals. The price increase was not related to innovation.  The drug now costs $16,000 a month.

Additionally, Novartis manufactures Gleevec, a cancer medicine that saw prices rise more than 395 percent in roughly 15 years.

The findings of the investigation detail a multitude of other examples of pharmaceutical companies dramatically increasing the price of certain drugs over a relatively short period. You can view the highlights of the findings from Politico Pro HERE.

President Trump's New Executive Orders on Healthcare
Last week, President Trump issued an Executive Order that was intended to protect people with preexisting conditions like cancer or diabetes to ensure that they have high quality healthcare and that insurance companies are unable to deny coverage or increase their prices due to the preexisting conditions.

However, it is very unlikely that this Executive Order leads to any large scale changes, as it is not enforceable without other laws being passed by Congress. Rather, the Executive Order is posturing by the Trump administration committing to protect people with preexisting conditions despite trying to strike down ACA in court, which protects people with preexisting conditions.

President Trump also issued an Executive Order on surprise billing. The order itself does not do much to prevent surprise billing, however it does name and shame aggressive billers on the HHS website. Information available would include an itemized list of services and cost that a patient received at discharge, allowing for a more transparent billing process.

It is largely unknown if the Trump administration will attempt to actually enforce these Executive Orders.