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This could get ugly

The Senate health committee is on a crash course today, as the panel considers a primary care and workforce bill that ranking member Bill Cassidy (R-La.) opposes. One sign of how messy it could get? He’s filed more than 60 amendments.


Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), who are working together on the bill, maintain they have the votes to pass it through the committee. Marshall said he expects some of his Republican colleagues to vote for it as well.

One of the key conflicts over the bill is how it will be paid for. The Congressional Budget Office hasn’t actually produced estimates yet. But here’s a document I got ahold of that offers a peek into Sanders’ math.

They have about $10 billion coming from savings in the health committee’s jurisdiction — but some of the calculations are estimates produced by Sanders’ own staff, which don’t hold any weight on their own. They’re also including hundreds of millions of dollars in savings from a PBM reform that hasn’t advanced through the health committee. On top of that, they’re also proposing to pull up to $22 billion from proposals that would fall into other committees’ jurisdictions, which Sanders has no control over.


ALS fight at FDA comes to a head

After years of polarizing discourse and debate, advisers to the FDA will finally weigh in next week on NurOwn, a potential treatment to slow the progression of ALS, my colleague Damian Garde reports.

Previously, the FDA refused to consider the convoluted data on NurOwn, and some physicians argue that the drug’s failure to show significant benefits in clinical studies means approval should be out of the question. But some patients and doctors want the FDA to make it available anyway for people facing an incurable disease.

The drug will be a test of just how far FDA is willing to go to balance the needs of patients with grave diseases with the demands of scientific review. Get fully prepped with Damian’s analysis here.

The Biden administration’s Covid-palooza

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra held a press event on the vaccine booster rollout yesterday flanked by the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna – though Albert Bourla and Stéphane Bancel, whose companies have made billions off of taxpayers during the pandemic, offered a few platitudes and then remained mute during the question and answer portion of the event.

Becerra acknowledged anecdotal reports that some people have been surprised by high sticker prices when getting their vaccines, now that the next round of boosters is funneling through the normal health care system channels instead of being purchased by the government. Becerra said HHS had reached out to insurers and pharmacists to alert them of the issues, but encouraged people to “talk to your insurance plan” if they run into problems. He said the issues arose from technical glitches that should be addressed pretty quickly.

Becerra refused to state how much the federal government is paying for some vaccines that it’s buying to give to community health centers, but said the price will be “similar to what we paid in the past.”

In other news, the Biden administration also announced yesterday that it’s offering another round of free Covid-19 tests from the country’s stockpile, and sending $600 million to testing manufacturers to maintain testing capacity, STAT’s Helen Branswell reports.

Reefer madness is alive and well in Congress

Want an insight into what some Republicans think of the increasing acceptance of cannabis in this country? Look no further than a markup held yesterday by the House Oversight Committee on a bill meant to make it easier for people who use pot to get federal jobs.

Several Republicans on the committee vociferously opposed the legislation, my colleague Nick Florko reports. Republicans’ arguments ranged from simply not liking marijuana and thinking it shouldn’t be condoned, to arguing that marijuana use could allow dangerous people to get security clearances. The bill ultimately passed out of committee, but the debate highlighted just how polarized Congress remains about marijuana’s growing use in this country.

Check out Nick’s story here, and don’t miss the kicker quote of the century from Rep. Clay Higgins, the Cajun John Wayne.

Medicare negotiation: an offer drug makers can’t refuse?

House Energy & Commerce oversight subcommittee Chair Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) kicked off a hearing yesterday by mocking Medicare negotiation as “godfather mafia-style negotiation,” my colleague John Wilkerson reports in his dispatch from the hearing.

The hearing was a bit strange because usually, lawmakers have heated debates over laws before they pass, not afterward. And because Republicans are making an effort to draw attention to their criticism of a policy that the vast majority of voters in their party support. Republicans’ opinion of the pharmaceutical industry has also soured over the past year. Read more.

What we’re reading

  • The anti-vaccine movement is on the rise. The White House is at a loss over what to do about it, Politico
  • PBMs were the target of House hearing, but pharma wasn’t spared criticism, STAT
  • Marlboro maker hits reset on $2 billion bet on medicine, Wall Street Journal
  • Lilly sues compounders, wellness centers and spas over unapproved versions of Mounjaro, STAT

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