5 biggest health care provisions inside the House reconciliation bill

House to consider modified reconciliation bill with health care provisions  | AHA News

After months of negotiations, House Democrats on Friday passed their version of the Build Back Better bill—an expansive $1.7 trillion package that contains some of the largest health reforms since the Affordable Care Act’s passage in 2010.

While the overall scope of the bill is roughly half the size of President Biden’s original $3 trillion proposal, many of Democrats’ key health care provisions made it in, albeit with some modifications. What’s more, the Congressional Budget Office projected that while the overall bill would add $367 billion to the deficit over the 10 year period, the health care provisions would all be largely paid for by provisions aimed at lowering drug prices.

Below, I round up the five biggest health care changes included in the House bill.

Find out where the states stand on Medicaid expansion

1. Health care coverage expansions

The House bill leverages the ACA’s exchanges and federal tax credits to expand access to coverage in two ways. First, the bill would extend the American Rescue Plan’s enhanced ACA tax credits through 2025. The enhanced tax credits, which are currently slated to expire in 2023, fully subsidize coverage for people with annual incomes up to 150% of the federal poverty level (FPL) and have enabled people above 400% FPL to qualify for subsidies and capped their premium costs at 8.5% of their incomes.

While Democrats had originally proposed to permanently expand those subsidies, they ultimately had to scale back this—and other proposals—to ensure they could cover the costs. But as we’ve seen in the past, it is much harder to take away an existing benefit or subsidy than it is to create a new one—so while the current bill was able to cover the cost of the health care provisions by making them temporary, lawmakers will have to revisit the tax credits before 2025 and find new money to either further extend them or permanently authorize them. This is one of several health care provisions we could see the Senate take a closer week at in the coming weeks.

Second, the House bill takes aim at the so-called Medicaid coverage gap. The bill would enable residents below 138% FPL who live in states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs to qualify for fully subsidized exchange plans through 2025. While an earlier version of the House bill included language for a new federal Medicaid program covering those below 138% FPL who live in non-expansion states to begin in 2025, the final House bill contains no such program.

Instead, the bill aims to encourage non-expansion states to expand their Medicaid programs by reducing their Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments by 12.5% beginning in 2023—a significant cut that the American Hospital Association (AHA) estimates would reduce DSH payments in those states by $2.2 billion over five years and $4.7 billion over 10 years. At the same time, expansion states would see their federal match for spending on the Medicaid expansion population rise from 90% to 93% from 2023 through 2025.

While the AHA and others are pushing back against the proposed DSH payment cuts—the move addresses the moral hazard component that critics raised about earlier versions. It no longer rewards holdout states for not expanding their programs—effectively punishing those who did and are now on the hook for 10% of their expansion population’s costs. It’s a clever move, and one we’ll be watching to see if it survives the Senate.

2. New Medicare benefits.

The House bill adds a hearing benefit to Medicare beginning in 2023. The hearing benefits would cover hearing aids and aural rehabilitation, among other services. While this is certainly a win for many Medicare beneficiaries who do not have or cannot afford private Medicare Advantage plans, this is significantly scaled back from the original proposal to add hearing, as well as dental and vision benefits.

However, given that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has named Medicare benefit expansions as one of his top priorities, it’s possible we could see this topic revisited in the Senate. But any meaningful change would mean Democrats need to find more money to cover the costs—and so far, that has proved challenging.

3. Medicaid home and community care.

The House bill allocates $150 billion for home- and community-based care. The funding would be used to help increase home care provider reimbursement rates and help states bolster home- and community-based care infrastructure.

While the funding is down from an original proposal of $400 billion, the Biden administration—and the Covid-19 pandemic—have made it clear that home-based health care will continue to grow and be a key player in the U.S. health care delivery system. Providers looking at their offerings should keep an eye on how states are investing these funds and building out home-based health care delivery in their areas.

4. Lowering the costs of prescription drugs.

Democrats scored a huge win in the House bill, and that is securing Medicare authority—albeit narrower authority than they sought—to negotiate prices for some of the highest-priced Part B or Part D drugs. Under the bill, HHS would be able to select 10 drugs to negotiation in 2025, up to 15 drugs in 2026 and 2027, and then up to 20 drugs per year in 2028. To be eligible for negotiation, a drug could no longer be subject to market exclusivity.

Drug manufacturers that do not negotiate eligible drug prices could be subject to an excise tax. This was perhaps one of the most contentious provisions debated in the health care portions of this bill. Democrats for years have been seeking to give Medicare drug pricing authority, but intense lobbying and Republican—and some Democrat—objections have kept this proposal on the shelf. While it’s not the first time the House has passed a bill with drug price negotiation—it is the first time we are in a place where the Senate could reasonably pass either this or a modified version of the proposal.

The bill also would redesign the Medicare Part D benefit to create an annual cap of $2,000 on seniors’ out-of-pocket drug costs, and impose an inflation rebate on drug manufacturers’ whose drug prices rise faster than inflation (based on 2021) in a given year.

5. Other notable provisions.

The House bill also includes provisions to permanently fund CHIP, bolster the country’s pandemic preparedness and response, and bolster the health care workforce through new training and workforce programs, the nation’s first permanent federal paid family and medical leave program, investments in childcare, and more.

What’s next?

While the health care provisions in the House bill are notable, it’s important to remember that this is not the end of the road. The House bill now goes to the Senate, where the Senate parliamentarian will check provisions against the Byrd rule—a Senate rule requiring reconciliation bills to meet certain budgetary requirements.

Democrats also will enter a new round of negotiations, and industry groups—including PhRMA and AHA—are expected to launch a new round of lobbying. PhRMA objects to the bill’s drug price negotiation provision and AHA is fighting the provision to reduce DSH payments in non-Medicaid expansion states by 12.5%. Any Senate-passed reconciliation bill will need to go back to the House for final approval before it can go to Biden’s desk.

But this is not the only thing on lawmakers’ plates in December. Members of Congress also face several other deadlines, including addressing looming physician payment cuts and passing end of the year spending bills. The short-version is, while there’s a lot to learn from the House-passed bill, it’s possible the Senate version could look very different—and it may take several weeks before we see that bill take shape.

New spending from Build Back Better would outweigh cuts in DSH payments, finds Urban Institute

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/new-spending-build-back-better-would-outweigh-cuts-dsh-payments-finds-urban-institute

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden proposed a framework called Build Back Better that would, among other things, expand Medicaid. If the BBB plan is implemented, a new Urban Institute analysis predicts that federal health subsidies would outweigh a projected increase in hospital spending by about 3-to-1.

The current draft of the Build Back Better Act (BBBA) includes provisions that would extend enhanced ACA subsidies to people below 100% of the federal poverty limit in the 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid. These provisions are intended to extend health insurance coverage to millions of people and to lower the cost of healthcare for many families.

Hospitals in non-expansion states would see more than $6.8 billion in new spending as a result of the BBBA’s closing of the Medicaid gap, which is about 15 times larger than the expected disproportionate share hospital allotment cuts of $444 million, the findings showed.

Overall, new federal health subsidies disbursed to non-expansion states for people in the coverage gap would be $19.6 billion. Florida, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina hospitals are among those that would have the most substantial increases in spending because of added coverage, the analysis found.

The Urban Institute also determined that the benefits of the changes would not necessarily go to the same hospitals that would sustain reductions in DSH allotments. If true, that means some hospitals may be worse off with the proposed changes.

Still, though only a portion of the total increased federal spending under the BBBA provisions would flow to hospitals, the researcher concludes that in the years during which additional subsidies would be provided, hospitals would be substantially better off overall than they are under current law, even after proposed Medicaid DSH cuts are taken into account.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT?

The effects of the new federal health subsidies would vary across states, largely because of differences in state populations, the Urban Institute showed. 

Florida hospitals, for instance, are projected to gain $1.7 billion in new spending because of added coverage, and to lose $33 million in DSH allotments, resulting in a net gain of $1.6 billion. Texas hospitals could gain $1.6 billion in new spending and lose $157 million in DSH allotments, gaining almost $1.5 billion. Georgia and North Carolina hospitals would also have substantial increases in spending because of added coverage that would exceed their reduced Medicaid DSH allotments by more than $750 million and almost $900 million, respectively. 

Meanwhile, because Wisconsin already covers adults up to the FPL under Medicaid, it would have a small net loss in payments to hospitals for the Medicaid gap population, but a net gain overall.

Hospitals serving a disproportionately high share of undocumented people would see less benefit from reform than other hospitals, and could see substantial DSH cuts. At the same time, the overall decline in the number of uninsured people could save spending on uncompensated care for the uninsured, data showed. If states and localities save on uncompensated care, the savings could be distributed to hospitals most in need after DSH cuts.

THE LARGER TREND

The BBBA’s increased subsidies are set to end after 2025, whereas the bill’s Medicaid DSH cuts would be permanent. More broadly, nationwide Medicaid DSH cuts specified under the Affordable Care Act have been repeatedly delayed, but they are now due to be implemented in fiscal year 2024. At $8 billion in that year, those cuts are much larger than the DSH cuts specified in the BBBA. 

Unless Congress intervenes, UI said, these ACA-related DSH reductions would be in addition to the DSH cuts in the BBBA for the 12 non-expansion states. 

The BBBA was slated to go to a vote the week of November 15, but that timetable may shift. According to CNN, the Congressional Budget office has yet to give a final cost estimate score for the bill; a group of moderate Democrats is waiting to see the CBO score before deciding whether to vote for the bill.

Medicare’s looming premium hike

Two workers serve food to two elderly women at a senior living center.

Monthly premiums that cover physician and outpatient care for Medicare patients will increase by 15% next year, the Biden administration said in a notice Friday evening.

Why it matters: People on Medicare are getting slammed with a big hike during an election year, due largely to the big price tag from the questionable Alzheimer’s treatment, Aduhelm, and uncertainty stemming from the coronavirus.

By the numbers: Standard Medicare Part B premiums will be $170.10 per month next year, up from $148.50 per month this year.

  • That equals an extra $259.20 in extra costs over the course of the year, just in premiums.
  • The Part B deductible also is increasing 15%, from $203 to $233.

Between the lines: Medicare is still determining whether it will pay for Aduhelm yet, but federal actuaries have to plan for a “high-cost scenario of Aduhelm coverage,” regulators said.

  • The FDA approved Aduhelm in June, and Biogen priced Aduhelm at $56,000 per year on average.
  • That price tag, along with all of the hospital and doctor costs associated with administering the drug and ancillary tests, could lead to “very significant” costs for the taxpayer-funded program, according to the notice.

The bottom line: The pandemic has made it difficult to predict future Medicare spending, such as trying to determine whether patients will get more non-COVID care that had been put off.

  • But Aduhelm — a treatment that has not conclusively proved that it improves brain function of Alzheimer’s patients — is now a high-profile example of pharma pricing power affecting Medicare patients’ pocketbooks and represents a redistribution of taxpayer money into Biogen’s coffers.

Out-of-network costs spin out of control

https://www.axios.com/billed-and-confused-cindy-beckwith-out-of-network-care-578a22be-b6b4-4959-8333-9e2e970b19d5.html

Out of Network costs vary greatly among California PPO health plans -

People who have health insurance but get sick with rare diseases that require out-of-network care continue to face potentially unlimited costs.

The big picture: Federal regulations cap how much people pay out of pocket for in-network care, but no such limit exists for out-of-network care.

Zoom in: Cindy Beckwith, 57, of Bolton, Connecticut, was diagnosed with pulmonary artery sarcoma, a rare tumor on a main artery. She also has fibromuscular dysplasia, a rare blood vessel condition.

  • She has ConnectiCare health insurance, which she gets through her husband’s employer.
  • Her local doctors suggested she see specialists at the University of Pennsylvania Health System because her conditions were so uncommon, but the system was out-of-network.
  • “I had to go out of my network,” Beckwith said. “I didn’t have a choice.”

The bill: $20,138.40 from Penn Medicine, the parent of UPHS, a profitable system with $8.7 billion of revenue last year.

  • Over a few years, Beckwith received a lot of care from the hospital, including two open-heart surgeries and inpatient chemotherapy.
  • This bill showed charges of $270,000, just for services received in 2019. Beckwith and the hospital settled on $20,138.40. Penn Medicine “insisted” she pay a minimum of $441 per month until 2023, she said.
  • Beckwith and her husband have already paid more than $11,000, and even though she says they are doing OK with her various medical bills, “there’s not a lot of extra money left over.”

Between the lines: The new surprise billing regulation only protects patients if they get non-emergency care from out-of-network doctors at in-network facilities.

  • That means people with employer coverage that doesn’t have an out-of-pocket maximum for out-of-network care could experience large bills based on hospitals’ inflated charges, and have to negotiate payment on their own.
  • “Out-of-network charges kind of seem like a little bit of funny money to consumers,” said Katherine Hempstead, a health insurance expert at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “These are the things that make people feel kind of defeated.”
  • “We didn’t expect this to happen,” said Beckwith, who has worked in medical coding for 30 years, said of her condition. “When it does, it can wipe you out.”

The other side: Beckwith’s hospital and insurance providers did not make anyone available for interviews.

  • A ConnectiCare spokesperson said the insurer does “not speak about our members’ private health information.”
  • A Penn Medicine spokesperson said in a statement the system “has a longstanding commitment to work with patients to help them understand the costs associated with their care, including out-of-pocket costs.”

The resolution: After Axios submitted a HIPAA authorization waiver, signed by Beckwith, to Penn Medicine to discuss Beckwith’s case, Beckwith received a call from Penn Medicine, whom she hadn’t heard from in months.

  • The hospital knocked $4,000 off her remaining balance, telling her they reprocessed some old claims. She still owes almost $4,800.

The Association Between Continuity of Marketplace Coverage During Pregnancy and Receipt of Prenatal Care

The Association Between Continuity of Marketplace Coverage During Pregnancy  and Receipt of Prenatal Care | The Incidental Economist

Pregnancy is a significant life event, one that typically leads to substantially more interaction with the health care system than average. In the United States (US), pregnant people usually have about one health care visit per month of pregnancy, during which they receive a myriad of services. However, access to high quality prenatal care — and enough of it — is often limited by one’s health insurance coverage.

When the Affordable Care Act was enacted, it established the individual Marketplaces from which those who are ineligible for Medicaid, Medicare, and/or employer-sponsored insurance can purchase coverage. However, pregnancy is not considered a qualifying life event, so an individual cannot just sign up for coverage once they find out they’re pregnant; they must wait until the next open enrollment period or the birth of their child, whichever comes first. Thus, they may be stuck without coverage during pregnancy. This can have a significant impact on access to appropriate prenatal care.

New Research

recent study in Health Affairs looked at Marketplace enrollment patterns for pregnant people and the impact of Marketplace insurance coverage on their health and care utilization.

The authors are Sarah Gordon and Melissa Garrido from Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) Health, Law, Policy, and Management Department (HLPM) and VA Boston Healthcare System; Charlotte Alger from BUSPH HLPM; and Eugene Declercq from BUSPH Community Health Sciences Department.

The authors used data from the Pregnancy Risk Surveillance and Monitoring System (PRAMS) from 2016 to 2018. Developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PRAMS is a self-reported survey within 40 states and New York City and is representative of 83 percent of all US births. State health departments pull a representative sample of recent births from birth certificate registries and reach out via mail and telephone to the selected mothers. The survey asks respondents about health status and behaviors, health care use, and insurance coverage.

With these data, they studied two questions. First, they assessed how likely pregnant people were to be enrolled in Marketplace insurance coverage preconception, during pregnancy, and/or postpartum. Sample size for this question was 6491 and the authors used simple descriptive analysis techniques.

Second, they studied how Marketplace enrollment impacted individuals’ receipt of prenatal care, such as the number of prenatal visits, receipt of care within the first trimester, and receipt of specific health care services like flu shots and screenings for intimate partner violence and depression. The sample size for this question was 3443, limited to individuals who reported Marketplace coverage during pregnancy. The authors used logistic regression models and inverse probability of treatment weights to conduct these analyses.

Findings

For enrollment, the authors found that about one third of respondents had continual Marketplace coverage, from preconception to postpartum. Of those who were only enrolled in the Marketplace preconception, over 70 percent reported Medicaid coverage during pregnancy. Of those who were only enrolled in the Marketplace postpartum, almost 50 percent reported Medicaid coverage and one third reported employer-sponsored insurance coverage during pregnancy.

For impact of enrollment during pregnancy, the authors compared those with continuous coverage (preconception to postpartum) to those who only enrolled in the Marketplace during pregnancy. Those with continuous Marketplace coverage were more likely to have “adequate” or “more than adequate” prenatal care use. (The authors defined these classifications using the Adequacy of Prenatal Care Utilization Index which measures timing and quantity of care.) Those with continuous coverage were also more likely to initiate prenatal care in the first trimester, though over 80 percent of respondents in both groups did so. The authors did not find any significant differences in the likelihood of receipt of particular prenatal services, such as flu shots or social/mental health screenings.

Limitations

There were several limitations to this study due to the nature of the PRAMS data set. For example, PRAMS is self-reported, subject to both recall bias and response bias. Plus, the survey is not conducted in all states and, thus, assumptions must be made about generalizability. Lastly, PRAMS simply includes a finite set of questions; this is certainly understandable but does limit researchers’ analyses.

Discussion

With the connection between insurance coverage and access to care clear, several notable policy questions arise from this study. Classifying pregnancy as a qualifying life event is perhaps the most obvious. As mentioned previously, pregnancy is not a qualifying life event, though the birth of a child is. (Only two states have implemented policies to the contrary.) Allowing an individual to sign up for health insurance coverage once pregnant, rather than waiting until birth or the next open enrollment period, could improve access to prenatal care and even improve maternal and child health outcomes.

Another related policy implication is determining what type of insurance is ideal for pregnant individuals. The authors found that individuals without Marketplace coverage often have other types of coverage, at least temporarily. What type of insurance is best or most cost-effective for pregnant people — and the benefits of coverage continuity regardless of type — could be studied further.

The study did not touch on the quality of prenatal care but that is also worth discussion. In the US, pregnant people tend to receive far more prenatal care than other countries but that doesn’t mean the quality is better, nor do maternal health outcomes suggest that’s true. In fact, the US’ maternal health outcomes are some of the worst in the industrial world.

Pregnancy is full of changes, expenses, and challenges. Determining how Marketplace insurance coverage — which has been around for a decade — access to care, and maternal and child health outcomes all interact from preconception to postpartum warrants more study.

Democrats Should Talk About Costs, Not Fairness, to Sell Drug Pricing to Voters

https://view.newsletters.time.com/?qs=ea318fe40822a16d35fd05551e26f48182b6d89aa3b6000b896a9ff2546a39caab4656832bb3a0c5bda16bcd6517859e00eba11282e80813fd45887b2c2398c865b7cca1f30f6315a7a3fb7a1b05cde6

Democrats Should Talk About Costs, Not Fairness, to Sell Drug Pricing to  Voters | Time

Here in Washington, the conversation about politics is often framed as a spectrum, a straight line with poles at the end that are hard-wired opposites. Team Blue to the left and Team Red to the right. But in reality, the chatter might more accurately be framed as a loop, with the far ends bending back on themselves like a lasso. Eventually, the far-right voices and the far-left voices meet at the weird spot where Rand Paul supporters find common ground with The Squad.

It’s often at the knot between the two ends of that scale that we find some of the loudest voices on any given issue: foreign aid, vaccine mandates, the surveillance state. Right now, as Congress is considering a massive spending package on roads and bridges, pre-K and paid family leave, lawmakers have been debating a point on which political opponents agree: drug prices are too high.

Drug pricing is one of those rare sweet spots where it seems everyone in Washington can agree that consumers are getting a raw deal. The motives behind that sentiment differ, of course: liberals want to make medical care more accessible and to curb the power of big pharma, and conservatives see drug prices divorced from pure capitalism. But everyone can rally around the end goal. No one gets excited to tuck away pennies on the paycheck to control acid reflux or prevent migraines.

The package under consideration tries to fix drug costs by ending the ban on feds negotiating with pharmaceutical companies. In a deal hashed out among Democrats, Medicare would be allowed to negotiate directly with drug companies on the prices of the 10 most expensive drugs by 2025. That number would double to 20 drugs three years later. Only established drugs that have been on the market at least nine years in most cases would be eligible, giving pharmaceutical companies almost a decade of unrestricted profitability. (Start-up biotech companies would be exempted from the process under the guise of giving newcomer innovators a leg-up.)

For individuals on private insurance, their drug costs would be tied to inflation, meaning no spiking costs if a drug becomes popular. Seniors, meanwhile, would have a $2,000 cap on what they’d be responsible for at the pharmacy.

Democrats have been working for years to make drug companies the enemy. In the current environment of woke capitalism, they’re an easy target for lawmakers in Washington to come after. Drugs, after all, aren’t luxury goods. They’re necessary. And for the government to give them a pass in ways few other industries enjoy, that just seems wrong to the far-left wing of the Democratic Party that has flirted with elements of socialism.

It turns out, maybe that messaging isn’t working. New polling, provided exclusively to TIME from centrist think tank Third Way, suggests the way the conversation is framed matters more than you’d think. In a poll of 1,000 likely voters in September, costs were their biggest hangup about the healthcare system, regardless of political identity. Almost 40% of respondents cited healthcare costs as the biggest flaw in the system.

What didn’t seem to bother people much? Fairness. That’s right. The spot where the far-right and the far-left tines of the political fork meet is usually seen as an objection to a system rigged against the consumers. But a meager 18% of respondents to the Third Way poll say profits were what’s wrong with the system. Grievance isn’t the most grievous of problems.

And if you dig a little deeper, you find other reasons Democrats might want to reconsider how they talk about drug prices in the twin infrastructure plans parked in Congress. In fact, there’s a 12-point gap in two competing reasons to address healthcare; lowering costs draws the support of 72% of respondents while making things fair wins backing from 60%.

“This is kitchen table economics and it’s not a morality play,” says Jim Kessler, a co-founder of Third Way and its policy chief who is advising the Hill on messaging on the twin bills. “Those are winning messages, especially on healthcare. You’re going to keep the exact same system, but you’re going to get some help with costs.”

In other words, the chatter in the purple knot might feel most fulsome when talking about justice and weeding out the super-rich exploiters of capitalism. But, really, people just want to hold onto their cash. Protections against healthcare bankruptcy are super popular, suggesting the fear of losing everything to a hospital visit is real. Capitalism may well be exploitative but it’s tough to argue that a few extra bucks in the bank can make falling asleep easier at the end of the day.

So as Congress gets ready to move forward with drug prices in its infrastructure talks, lawmakers can find some comfort that the whole of the political spectrum agrees costs need to come down. And they don’t really care if it’s done in a fair way — as long as their savings doesn’t take a hit every 90 days.

Deal to Lower Prescription Drug Prices

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/579660-schumer-announces-deal-to-lower-prescription-drug-prices

Texas Drug Prices Reduced By New Bill To Lower Prescription Prices

Democratic lawmakers have reached a deal on legislation to lower prescription drug prices to be included in President Biden‘s social spending package, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Tuesday.  

The agreement is less far-reaching than earlier Democratic proposals, but still represents progress on an issue the party has campaigned on for years.  

The agreement would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices in limited instances, prevent drug companies from raising prices faster than inflation and cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare at $2,000 per year.

Democrats scaled back their earlier sweeping measure because of concerns from a handful of moderates that it would have harmed innovation from drug companies to develop new treatments. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), as well as Reps. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) were among those moderates and helped lead negotiations with leadership over the compromise measure.

“It’s not everything we all wanted, many of us would have wanted to go much further, but it’s a big step in helping the American people deal with the price of drugs,” Schumer told reporters.

Sinema said in a statement that she supported the agreement. “The Senator welcomes a new agreement on a historic, transformative Medicare drug negotiation plan that will reduce out-of-pocket costs for seniors – ensuring drug prices cannot rise faster than inflation – save taxpayer dollars, and protect innovation to ensure Arizonans and Americans continue to have access to life-saving medications, and new cures and therapeutics,” Sinema’s office said.

One of the key compromises leading to a deal was limiting the scope of Medicare’s ability to negotiate lower drug prices, which has long been a signature Democratic proposal. Lawmakers agreed to limit Medicare’s ability to negotiate to older drugs that no longer have “exclusivity,” meaning the period when they are protected from competition. Earlier versions of Democrats’ bills would have allowed negotiation for newer drugs too.

A draft measure that circulated to lobbyists in recent days would allow negotiation for 10 drugs starting in 2025 and 30 drugs starting in 2028. Full details of the final measure have not yet been released.

Drug pricing, most Medicare expansions are out of Biden’s economic bill

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/10/28/drug-pricing-most-medicare-expansions-are-out-biden-economic-bill/

The FDA could greenlight a vaccine for kids as soon as Friday and more workers now have vaccine mandates. But first: 

Democrats are ditching progressives’ health priorities in their economic bill

The White House says Democrats have clinched a deal. 

The $1.75 trillion framework for Biden’s massive social spending bill temporarily funds several of the party’s health care ambitions. But it includes big misses on health care, such as significantly paring back progressives’ goal of adding new benefits to Medicare — instead including only coverage for hearing services — and excluding Democrats’ plan aimed at lowering the sky-high prices of prescription drugs. 

Will all Democrats get on board? Senior administration officials projected confidence that they would, and characterized the framework as the biggest expansion of health care in a decade. Yet, it includes major defeats for the party’s more liberal members, who have been reticent to draw red lines on what they would or wouldn’t support.

It’s a critical day. President Biden is heading to huddle privately with House Democrats this morning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced plans for the chamber’s Rules Committee to hold a hearing, although legislative text hasn’t yet been released. And before leaving for his trip overseas, Biden will speak publicly about the path forward for his legislative agenda, per a White House official. 

Early this morning, senior administration officials spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity to detail the framework. 

What’s in and what’s out

Prescription drug negotiation: OUT

Democrats campaigned on reducing prices of prescription drugs — and letting Medicare directly force lower prices is a key plank of that effort. But the party couldn’t overcome fierce divisions amid a lobbying storm.

  •  “At the end of the day, there are not yet enough votes to get something across the line to deliver what the American people need and expect on prescription drugs,” a senior administration official said. “We’re going to keep fighting to get this done and deliver lower drug prices.”

The House’s signature drug proposal faced resistance from a trio of House moderates who instead backed more limited drug negotiation. On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema had raised objections and other senators had concerns with a bill as sweeping as the one the House passed in 2019. The industry’s main trade group has been working furiously to keep the proposal out of Democrats’ economic package.

  • Of note: The framework includes fully repealing a Trump-era ban on prescription drug rebates as a way to offset the cost of the package. The administration anticipates that would save $145 billion.

Medicare expansion: mostly OUT

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the House Congressional Progressive Caucus have been bullish on two main health policies: allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices, and using those savings to expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing.

The framework only creates a new Medicare benefit for hearing. 

  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the CPC, has repeatedly said her 96 members aren’t drawing red lines. But here’s how she characterized the CPC’s thoughts yesterday: “For a lot of members, it’s like what are we doing for seniors? How do we make sure we get some benefits for seniors in here?”
  • Sanders is the person to watch here. He’s long championed expanding Medicare, and has already come down on his ambitions for a wide-ranging $6 trillion bill.

Closing the Medicaid coverage gap: IN 

The framework extends coverage for 2.2 million adults in the dozen, mostly GOP-led states that have refused Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. They’ll get tax credits to receive premium-free health coverage on the Obamacare health exchanges through 2025. 

Earlier this week, Manchin raised concerns with allowing the federal government to pay for health coverage for 2.2 million adults in the dozen, mostly GOP-led states refusing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. His own colleagues — such as Georgia Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff — lobbied heavily to change his mind.

Obamacare subsidies: IN

The framework would extend more generous financial help to Obamacare consumers through 2025, building on an effort that began in Biden’s coronavirus relief bill passed this spring. 

In-home care: IN 

Biden has pushed for a $400 billion investment in home care for seniors and the disabled. It’s been clear for weeks that his ask will be significantly pared back. Administration officials said funding for home and community-based services is included in the framework, but didn’t detail how much money would go toward the program helping keep seniors and those with disabilities out of institutional settings.   

Democrats’ risky health care play

https://www.axios.com/democrats-health-care-coverage-medicaid-affordable-care-act-4758a48b-fc65-4ca4-8c1e-888c882e759f.html

Some Democrats say it’s possible that pieces of their social policy agenda end up being enacted or extended for only a year or two, including major Affordable Care Act and Medicaid provisions.

Why it matters: Limited terms may be the only way Democrats can strike a deal within their budget. But the risk is that Republicans will be able to undo these temporary programs if they’re able to regain control of Congress through next year’s midterms.

  • There also aren’t many policy areas that Republicans are less excited about than the ACA and Medicaid expansion.

What they’re saying: Extending programs for only a year or two is a “possibility,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told Axios.

  • Extending enhanced ACA subsidies and closing the Medicaid coverage gap were measures that “we wanted … to be permanent,” said Sen. Ben Cardin D-Md.). “Clearly there’s a lot of pressure to get as much in as we can, [which] means shorter periods.”
  • “I think all of the programs are being considered for shorter periods. There are some that are of greater importance to get as long as possible,” Cardin added. He said it’s also possible that an extension of the child tax credit would also last only a year.

The big picture: Political, budgetary and practical factors are all at play as Democrats try to figure out what’s in and what’s out of their reconciliation bill.

  • But one giant consideration when it comes to the health care provisions — particularly the ACA and Medicaid ones — is that Republicans may not feel compelled to extend these programs should they gain power.
  • “I expect Republicans would be glad to take back the mantle of the child tax credit but Democrats should not fool themselves into thinking Republicans will feel any real pressure to extend these health care policies,” said Brendan Buck, a longtime aide to former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The other side: Republicans may encounter political pressures similar to the ones they did in 2017, when they struggled — and ultimately failed — to repeal and replace the ACA.

  • Declining to extend Democrat-enacted coverage policies in the next couple of years would be somewhat similar, in that the result would be millions of low-income people would lose their health coverage or see its cost skyrocket.
  • Also, most of the states that haven’t expanded Medicaid are ruby-red.
  • “Remember what happened with the Affordable Care Act — they said that they didn’t like these things, but then they couldn’t repeal them because they didn’t have another option,” said Sen. Tina Smith, (D-Minn.)

Yes, but: But inaction is different from voting to end a benefit, Buck said.

  • Some Democrats are skeptical, too.
  • “The modern Republican party isn’t for much other than the destruction of government. So the idea that Republicans are going to want to hold onto programs even if they benefit the middle class runs a bit contrary to the recent history of the party,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

The bottom line: At this point, Democrats will take any party-wide agreement they can get. And temporary health coverage expansions may have their upside.

  • “It’s an easy way to slim costs,” said one Democratic strategist, adding that it allows both Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to claim victory.
  • “If I’m [Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer, I do it for a year and make Republicans vote on it in October,” right before the midterm elections, the strategist added.

Democrats’ prescription drug collapse

After campaigning on health care one election cycle after another, Democrats have put forward a social policy framework that does nothing to lower prescription drug prices, expands Medicare benefits to only include hearing coverage, and temporarily builds on the Affordable Care Act.

Why it matters: The framework may be the best the party can do with razor-thin vote margins in Congress. But some health care advocates say it’s unacceptable — and voters may not be thrilled either.

The big picture: Democrats can certainly claim some health care victories.

  • The framework would extend the enhanced ACA subsidies that the party enacted earlier this year, although only through 2025. This has been plenty of moderate Democrats’ primary health care goal.
  • The framework also makes ACA subsidies available to people in the Medicaid coverage gap in states that have chosen not to expand, another major priority for many Democrats. This would also last through 2025.

The other side: Progressives have a much tougher pill to swallow. And when it comes to drug prices, nearly the entire party has campaigned on lowering them.

  • Progressives, championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, have been pushing for Medicare to cover dental and vision benefits, as well as hearing. And that’s a far cry from what they actually want, which is Medicare to be offered to more or all Americans.
  • Lowering drug costs and expanding Medicare benefits are also very popular with voters — particularly seniors, who vote in large numbers.

What they’re saying: “We are outraged that the initial framework does not lower prescription drug prices,” said AARP in a statement. “Americans are fed up with promises that have not been kept.”

  • “The president and Democratic leaders are on the record fiercely supporting drug price negotiations and Medicare dental benefits. These are wildly popular benefits that almost all families across this nation want. Unfortunately, this small number of intransigent Democrats, who are schilling for lobbyists and drug companies, are standing in the way,” Families USA wrote in a statement.

What we’re watching: What’s out today is just a framework, and some key Democrats are vowing to keep fighting.

  • Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone and Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden both told reporters that drug prices are still being discussed.
  • And plenty of other Democrats, especially those in vulnerable seats, may be very sensitive to the prospect of failing to follow through on the party’s commitment.