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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Pelosi’s drug pricing bill gets another markup and more D.C. events

It’s a busy day in the nation’s capital. First up, the House Ways and Means Committee is meeting to consider various pieces of health legislation, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s drug pricing bill. Highly anticipated markups of that bill late last week hardly changed the legislation, even though Republicans came prepared with more than 300 amendments. 

A House Education and Labor subcommittee is holding what it’s calling a “long overdue” hearing on the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act, which would prohibit employment discrimination against and ensure proper work accommodations for pregnant women and those with children. The bill was introduced in 2017, but has seen little movement since. 

Finally, the nonprofit group UsAgainstAlzheimer’s is holding its annual National Alzheimer’s Summit over the next three days. Part of the summit: meetings with members of Congress to advocate for more federal funds for Alzheimer’s research. 

Drug companies reach tentative deal with Ohio counties to settle opioids lawsuit 

Four drug companies reached a tentative settlement shortly before they were to go to trial yesterday in the nation’s first federal trial about the opioid epidemic. Two Ohio counties were suing five companies — generics maker Teva, three drug distributors, and Walgreens — for their alleged role in pushing high volumes of opioid painkillers into communities. All but Walgreens settled for a sum of $260 million; the Walgreens case has been postponed. The counties — Cuyahoga and Summit — will receive $215 million from the drug distributors, with Teva supplying $20 million over two years as well as another $25 million in anti-addiction medicines over the next three years. Still, yesterday’s deal only covers two of the more than 2,300 local governments and other entities suing pharmaceutical companies over their role in the opioid crisis. 

New global challenge wants the best ideas to extend human health

The National Academy of Medicine in the U.S. just launched a new global challenge to study human longevity. Called the Healthy Longevity Global Competition, the contest will award prizes to innovative research and technology that aims to extend human health and function later in life. The challenge will be held in three phases. Starting next year, the “catalyst” phase will award $50,000 of seed funding to each of approximately 450 teams or individuals with the most promising ideas. The following year, the most successful catalyst award winners will get upwards of $500,000 to continue to develop their ideas. In the final phase of the competition, starting in 2023, one or more teams will receive a grand prize of up to $5 million “for achievement of a breakthrough innovation that extends the human healthspan.” 

Inside STAT: How Joe Grogan, a former pharma lobbyist, upended Trump’s drug pricing agenda


Joe Grogan, right, listens during a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Even before President Trump announced a sweeping new plan to lower drug prices in May 2018, there was opposition to the plan — but the unlikely opponent was someone within the administration. A former lobbyist for Gilead Sciences, White House budget adviser Joe Grogan refused to sign off on the speech in which the plan was to be announced as well as the plan itself, STAT’s Lev Facher in Washington reports. Only some shouting — over speakerphone, no less — from HHS secretary Alex Azar’s staff ensured that Grogan backed off. But his attempts to roll back the policy have continued, leaving a wake of disgruntled West Wing aides and disenchanted conservative advocacy groups. Read more on Grogan, who is now director of the president’s Domestic Policy Council. 

Nearly 1 in 8 U.S. pharmacies closed between 2009-2015, affecting mostly urban areas 

About 1 in 8 U.S. pharmacies closed between 2009 and 2015, according to new research, leaving gaps in many parts of the country. Researchers found that there were close to 75,000 pharmacies at any given time during the study period, and that the number of pharmacies increased by nearly 8% during those seven years. Still, by the end of 2015, nearly 13% had closed. Pharmacies in urban areas were more likely to have closed than those in rural parts of the country. Independently owned drug stores as well as those serving uninsured people, those from low-income backgrounds, or people who have public insurance were also more likely to have closed. Reducing such closures should involve reforming how pharmacies are paid, including better reimbursement rates for public insurance plans, the authors write. 

Rising health care costs are a concern for a majority of Americans

A new survey from the nonprofit Physicians Foundation found that nearly three-quarters of patients are concerned about paying for medical bills if they fell sick. Here’s more: 

  • Rising health care costs: The vast majority are concerned about how rising health costs will affect them in the future. Half of respondents say they’re one sickness away from serious financial trouble. 

  • Opioid epidemic: About a third of respondents know someone who has struggled with opioid addiction, and about 20% know someone who has died as a result. More than half believe pharma companies are most responsible for the epidemic. 

  • Other priorities: About three-quarters say poverty and inadequate social services contribute to high health spending in the U.S. A similar proportion say physicians should look at issues with housing, food or transportation to see if those are interfering with health.

What to read around the web today

  • New CRISPR tool has the potential to correct almost all disease-causing DNA glitches, scientists report. STAT
  • The problem with labeling gut troubles ‘dysbiosis’. Undark
  • All the pregnancies I couldn’t talk about. The Atlantic
  • This small biotech is suing the Trump administration to get its drug covered. STAT Plus
  • Evidence links poliolike disease in children to a common type of virus. Science

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

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