Monday, July 11, 2016

Overnight Healthcare: Blame game over Zika funding

Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a funding bill to fight the Zika virus, infuriating Republicans and raising real doubts about whether Congress will approve an emergency response before the summer recess.

Both parties agree that the virus is a real and growing health crisis; each blames the other for the failure to act.

At a press conference Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) repeatedly said no changes would be made to the bill to address Democratic concerns. He said that as a conference report, the product of negotiations between the House and Senate, no amendments could be made. 

Asked if he is willing to reconsider a provision in the bill limiting funding to Planned Parenthood that it is the focus of Democratic objections, McConnell said: "Well, it's an interesting discussion but it's irrelevant. This is a conference report. It's not amendable. It's not amendable."

He rejected Democratic calls to go back to the drawing board and produce a new bill with Democratic input. "The negotiations have already occurred," he said.

McConnell called Democrats' actions "inexplicable and unacceptable."

The Senate previously reached a bipartisan Zika deal to provide $1.1 billion in funding that would not be paid for, but House Republicans insisted that the cost of the measure be fully offset.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the top Senate Republican on health spending, acknowledged the problems bridging the gap with the House.

"The big obstacle here is clearly... that the House appropriately wanted to do everything possible to pay for this, and Democrats in the Senate don't," Blunt said. Read more here.

Feds will make 'adjustments' to controversial Medicare drug-pricing plan

Dr. Patrick Conway, the No. 2 official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the agency will "plan to make adjustments in the final rule."

Conway, however, defended the overall approach of the Medicare pilot program, and it is expected that the administration will go forward with finalizing the rule despite the controversy.

Currently, Medicare pays doctors the average price of a drug plus 6 percent. The administration warns that system gives doctors an incentive to prescribe higher-cost drugs so that they get paid more. The pilot program would reduce the 6 percent add-on to 2.5 percent plus a flat fee of about $16. Read more here.

Cheaper Hepatitis C cure on the way

The company behind the $1,000-per-pill Hepatitis C drug called Sovaldi won approval Tuesday for another potential blockbuster drug.

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved the newest drug from Gilead Sciences called Epclusa, which marks the first combination therapy to treat all six forms of the liver disease Hepatitis C.

Epclusa will cost $74,760 for a course of treatment before discounts, according to a Gilead spokeswoman. That compares to $84,000 for a full course of Sovaldi.

Texas abortion ruling highlights 2016 stakes

Abortion has emerged as a top campaign issue at a challenging time for Republicans.

Most striking about the Supreme Court's bombshell ruling in favor of abortion rights on Monday has been the relative silence from some of the GOP's top leaders, including the party's presumptive presidential nominee.

Trump, a prolific tweeter, made no mention of the Supreme Court decision on social media or during his speech on Monday. He didn't comment despite a high-profile meeting with conservative leaders last week, in which he vowed that appointing "pro-life judges" would be a top priority as president.

The stakes extend beyond the presidential race. The GOP is defending 24 Senate seats in November. Six of those are in states that President Obama carried in 2012, including New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Ohio, and many in the party fear that Trump's campaign could work against candidates in those states.

Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), who is considered one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents in 2016, on Monday released a statement praising the court's decision to uphold abortion access. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was the only Senate GOP incumbent in a challenging reelection race to openly condemn the court's decision. More analysis here:

World's No. 1 golfer to skip Olympics

28-year-old Australian golfer Jason Day announced he'll be staying from the Rio games because of the Zika virus. His announcement comes a week after the No. 4 player, Rory McIlroy, said he would no longer represent Ireland in the Olympics.


The Senate Homeland Security Committee holds a roundtable on Zika preparation.

Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden hold a cancer moonshot summit at Howard University.


A new study on rising out-of-pocket hospital costs offers more evidence that employers are using high-deductible plans to keep premium costs down. (Bloomberg News)

A company called Emergent BioSolutions won a federal contract that could ultimately be worth $21.9 million to develop and create an early-stage Zika vaccine. (Washington Post)

LGBT groups joined Democratic lawmakers to ramp up pressure on the FDA to reverse its rule that prevents gay and bisexual men from donating blood unless they abstain from sex for one year. (ABC News)

The US Preventive Services Task Force concluded Tuesday there is "insufficient" evidence to recommend regular pelvic exams for healthy women. (STAT News)


The U.S. Supreme Court refused to rescue a Wisconsin law restricting abortion clinics and doctors in the state, its second major decision on the issue in two days. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The Iowa Democratic party platform calls for "legalizing all drugs," though lawmakers say it wouldn't mean heroin or methamphetamine would be available at the corner store. (Des Moines Register)

The first baby with Zika-related microcephaly is born in Florida.

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