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Health Care — Dems enter final stretch on drug price push

The 560-million-year-old fossil of an animal believed to be the first animal predator has received the honor of being named after Sir David Attenborough. 

Today in health care, Democrats are closing in on the long-held goal of allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, but some last-minute obstacles still loom.  

Welcome to Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan, Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

Dems rev up efforts to lower drug prices

A lot has been removed from Democrats’ major economic package, but there’s still a long-held goal for the party that they’re hoping to pass: Lowering prescription drug prices.  

The bill, which could get a Senate vote in the next two weeks, would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices for some prescription drugs for the first time, a goal Democrats have been pushing for years.   

It appears that Democrats have the votes to pass the measure without any GOP support, but a range of obstacles loom in the final stretch.  

  • Republicans and the powerful pharmaceutical industry are fiercely opposed to the measure.  
  • With a razor-thin margin in a 50-50 Senate, the absence of any Democratic senators due to COVID-19 or other reasons could throw off the party’s plans. 

Two or three years of ACA subsidies? The bill would also extend increased financial assistance to help people afford their health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act.   

The extension of the extra help is likely to be for two years, though sources say there is some discussion of increasing it to three years. Adding the extra year would avoid setting up a cliff right before the 2024 presidential election. 

Read more here.  

GOP plots Fauci probe after midterms

Congressional Republicans are eagerly floating investigations into Anthony Fauci and the Biden administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic if they win back control of the House or Senate in the midterm elections.  

  • “One way or another, if we are in the majority, we will subpoena his records and he will testify in the Senate under oath,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is in line to become the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee if Republicans win the majority with the panel’s current ranking member, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), retiring. 

Republicans have not been shy about launching probes into the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, focusing on the origins of the virus and whether the federal government — and by extension, Fauci — helped fund controversial research that might have played a role in its creation. 

While Republicans have been in the minority, those investigations have not gained much momentum. But with the majority, the GOP would have the authority to lob subpoenas at the administration to force it to hand over documents.  

In the House, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who is in line to chair the House Judiciary Committee if Republicans win the majority, told The Hill that he sees no limits to what he wants to investigate about Fauci and the pandemic.

Read more here. 

NO GUARANTEE MONKEYPOX CONFINED TO SPECIFIC COMMUNITIES  

The global outbreak of monkeypox should not be expected to stay confined to specific groups, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said Monday.  

Though cases of the virus have been predominantly reported among men who have sex with men, diseases commonly begin in one community before spreading to others. 

“This really might be the canary in the mine that’s alerting to us of a new disease threat that could spread to other groups,” Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency officer at the WHO, said Monday on CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe.” 

“At the moment, cases continually continue to be reported among men who have sex with men, for the most part, but we should not expect that to remain as such,” Smallwood added. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,891 cases in the U.S. as of July 22 and more than 16,836 cases globally. 

Read more here. 

MANCHIN TESTS POSITIVE FOR COVID-19

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Monday that he tested positive for COVID-19.  

“This morning I tested positive for COVID-19,” Manchin, 74, wrote on Twitter.  

“I am fully vaccinated and boosted and am experiencing mild symptoms. I will isolate and follow CDC guidelines as I continue to work remotely to serve West Virginians.” 

Manchin is the latest in a string of senators to test positive, as well as President Biden.  

Democrats’ dilemma: If other Democrats test positive next week, it could pose an obstacle for passing a health care measure that would lower prescription drug prices and continue enhanced financial assistance under the Affordable Care Act. Manchin is a key vote on the measure in a Senate split evenly between the two parties. 

Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) also tested positive last week. 

Manchin could be out of isolation after five days, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, if his symptoms are improving.  

Read more here. 

Feds propose bolstering LGBTQ health protections

A new proposal from the Biden administration would reverse Trump-era limits on health care protections against discrimination for transgender and other LGBTQ people.   

The proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would strengthen ObamaCare’s rules to prohibit discrimination based on sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity, in certain health programs and activities that receive federal funding.  

The proposal also seeks to protect from discrimination people seeking reproductive health care services, including those who have had abortions. 

The move comes after former President Trump’s administration ruled to remove most of the protections that prevented health care workers from denying care to patients based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. 

Key quote: “We know that in many states, communities, our transgender community, are feeling like they’re being left out. This I hope will send a signal that if you are seeking health care, and you have a right to access that care, we will protect that right against discrimination,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. 

Read more here. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Two deadly days in St. Louis: An overdose cluster kills 8 Black people — and shows the new shape of the addiction crisis (Stat) 
  • Hospitals struggle with staff shortages as federal Covid funds run out (Politico)   
  • Why is insulin still so expensive for diabetes patients in the U.S.? (NBC News) 
  • Big hospitals provide skimpy charity care—despite billions in tax breaks (Wall Street Journal) 

STATE BY STATE

  • Indiana may soon ban abortion if Republican lawmakers can agree on how far to go (NPR) 
  • University of Michigan medical students walk out as anti-abortion keynote speaker takes stage (WDIV) 
  • ‘The stakes could not be higher’: Kansas abortion vote set for Aug. 2 (Washington Post)  

THE HILL OP-EDS

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you tomorrow.

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