KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Cue the drug price debate

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Finance Committee this week unveiled a sweeping proposal that seeks to lower prescription drug prices for the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The bill promptly drew opposition from the powerful pharmaceutical industry. But both parties seem set on trying to pass a drug price bill in advance of the 2020 elections.

Meanwhile, the bipartisan leaders of the other Senate committee that oversees prescription drugs announced that their bill would not come to the Senate floor before the chamber's summer recess, meaning the earliest the full Senate would take up any drug pricing issues is this fall.

This week's panelists are Julie Rovner from Kaiser Health News, Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post, Rebecca Adams of CQ Roll Call and Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico.

Among the takeaways from this week's podcast:

  • As key drug pricing plans move through Congress, Democrats are stuck with a hard reality: passing changes that might satisfy voters also gives President Donald Trump a big win on one of his campaign issues. Republicans, on the other hand, feel pressured to move a bill along because several of the administration's initiatives have cratered.
  • Critics of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley's plan argue that although it might keep the cost of current drugs lower for many patients, it does nothing to stop drugmakers from putting exorbitant prices on new drugs.
  • Under pressure generated by former late-night TV personality Jon Stewart, Congress passed and sent to Trump legislation to replenish the fund that pays for 9/11 first responders who became sick from exposure to toxic substances.
  • A judge's decision to allow short-term health insurance plans that don't meet ACA standards again focuses attention on the fact that the president and his administration have great leeway in interpreting many provisions of the health law. The judge noted that the ACA didn't put any restrictions on the short-term plans but that the Obama administration had. Trump was free to change that.
  • Oklahoma's suit against Johnson & Johnson, alleging it helped fuel the opioid epidemic in the state, has garnered much attention. But an even larger lawsuit is coming in September based in Ohio. That suit is being compared to an effort in the 1990s by a consortium of states that sued tobacco companies and won a massive settlement.

Also, Rovner interviews KHN's Jenny Gold, who wrote the latest KHN-NPR "Bill of the Month" feature about the high cost of kidney dialysis. If you have an outrageous medical bill you'd like to share with us, you can do that here.

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

Julie Rovner: The Los Angeles Times' "Rising Health Insurance Deductibles Fuel Middle-Class Anger and Resentment," by Noam Levey

Alice Miranda Ollstein: The New York Times' "Neil Armstrong's Death, and a Stormy, Secret $6 Million Settlement," by Scott Shane and Sarah Kliff

Rebecca Adams: ProPublica's "Health Insurers Make It Easy for Scammers to Steal Millions. Who Pays? You." By Marshall Allen

Paige Winfield Cunningham: The New York Times' "Politicians Tackle Surprise Bills, but Not the Biggest Source of Them: Ambulances," by Sarah Kliff and Margot Sanger-Katz

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to What the Health? on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, or Pocket Casts.

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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