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KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Drug Price Bill Is a Go in the Senate

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President Joe Biden is the latest top Washington official to test positive for covid-19, following Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. But work continues, particularly on a Senate bill that could, for the first time, allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and cap seniors’ out-of-pocket medication costs.

Meanwhile, both supporters and opponents of abortion rights are struggling to find their footing in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturn of the federal right to abortion in Roe v. Wade.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Shefali Luthra of The 19th, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, and Rachel Cohrs of Stat.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Although some Democrats and many political pundits are criticizing the Senate for scaling back the president’s Build Back Better agenda to be mostly a health care bill, the proposal in that bill to allow Medicare to negotiate prices for some drugs would be a major change that drugmakers have successfully fought for two decades.
  • The bill, which hasn’t been released in full, will include only those provisions that have been approved by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), because all 50 members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate will be needed to pass the bill. In addition to allowing price negotiations on 10 drugs in the first year, the legislation would penalize drugmakers that raise prices above the rate of inflation and limit Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket drug spending to $2,000 a year.
  • The bill is also expected to include provisions to extend for an additional two years the enhanced subsidies for premiums on health policies purchased through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace. Those details have not yet been released.
  • Progressives have been dismayed at the administration’s lackluster answer to the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe. Even as the White House notes that there are limits to what the president can do, the administration has been more cautious than many expected in announcing how it plans to respond. For example, immediately after the Supreme Court released the decision, the administration said it would guard women’s access to medication abortions — but there has been little follow-up.
  • The Indiana doctor who treated a 10-year-old rape victim seeking an abortion is threatening a defamation lawsuit against the state’s attorney general, who incorrectly said on national television that she didn’t file the necessary paperwork.
  • The case of that 10-year-old has put anti-abortion groups on the defensive and suggested that they are split on how to handle situations like this. Some leaders suggest the child should have gone forward with the pregnancy, while other groups said people who have been raped should not have to carry a baby to term.
  • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is continuing his push to restrict abortion. The state basically shut down most abortions last September with a strict law that allows community members to sue doctors and others who help a woman get an abortion beyond six weeks of pregnancy. Now, Paxton is challenging the Biden administration’s statement that federal law entitles people seeking emergency care because of pregnancy problems to get an abortion. Paxton has said that federal law does not preempt the state’s restrictions.
  • Texas’ hard line on abortion could have an economic impact within the state. Some young people and companies are not in favor of the abortion policies and some are threatening to leave the state.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Dr. Jack Resneck Jr., a California dermatologist who is the new president of the American Medical Association.

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

Julie Rovner: KHN’s “Conservative Blocs Unleash Litigation to Curb Public Health Powers,” by Lauren Weber and Anna Maria Barry-Jester

Shefali Luthra: Stat’s “Health Care’s High Rollers: As the Pandemic Raged, CEOs’ Earnings Surged,” by Bob Herman, Kate Sheridan, J. Emory Parker, Adam Feuerstein, and Mohana Ravindranath

Rachel Cohrs: Politico’s “Anthony Fauci Wants to Put Covid’s Politicization Behind Him,” by Sarah Owermohle

Joanne Kenen: Inside Climate News’ “When the Power Goes Out, Who Suffers? Climate Epidemiologists Are Now Trying to Figure That Out,” by Laura Baisas

Also mentioned on this week’s podcast:

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to KHN’s What the Health? on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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