Ready to Rumble: Pelosi’s Drug Bill Sets Up Dems for 2020

Ready to Rumble: Pelosi’s Drug Bill Sets Up Dems for 2020

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Plus, a shocking health care stat
Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Pelosi, Dems Prepare to Make Their 2020 Case on Drug Prices

After making a deal with liberal Democrats Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears to have cleared the way for a vote this week on a sweeping bill that would empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

To appease progressives who had complained that the bill wasn’t strong enough, Pelosi agreed to increase the minimum number of drugs whose prices would be negotiated by the federal government to 50, up from 25 in the original bill. The bill also now includes a provision that would eventually limit drugmakers’ ability to raise prices above the rate of inflation in employer-sponsored health plans.

The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday that the bill’s price negotiation provisions would reduce government spending by about $456 billion over 10 years. (The analysis was based on the previous version of the bill, which called for Medicare to negotiate the prices of at least 35 drugs.) Overall, though, due to other provisions that would increase government spending significantly — including plans to provide dental, vision and hearing coverage in Medicare — the bill would be close to a wash in terms of the budget, with a roughly $5 billion reduction in the federal deficit over a decade.

A vote on the bill, titled the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, is expected Thursday.

Why it matters: The bill is not expected to pass the Senate, and the White House has indicated that it would veto it, should it make its way to President Trump’s desk. But Democrats may have other reasons to push for a vote in the House.

“The aggressive legislation gives Democrats a chance to tout their productivity on a central campaign issue that is fully detached from Washington’s debate over 'Medicare for All’ and the broader chaos surrounding Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Trump that, so far, has dominated early 2020 campaigning,” says STAT’s Lev Facher. “Already, drug pricing groups and Democratic campaign arms are rushing to tout the Pelosi legislation — especially on behalf of candidates who made a point of campaigning on health care in 2018.”

Judge Blocks Trump Plan to Divert $3.6 Billion in Military Funds to Border Wall

A federal judge in Texas on Tuesday blocked the Trump administration’s plan to divert $3.6 billion in military funds toward construction of barriers along the border with Mexico.

District Court Judge David Briones ruled that the administration’s move to use a national emergency declaration to redirect money appropriated by Congress for military construction was unlawful and issued a permanent nationwide injunction prohibiting use of the funds for border barriers.

The lawsuit was brought by El Paso County, Texas, and Border Network for Human Rights.

The Trump administration is expected to appeal the decision, but the ruling represents a setback for the president, who has vowed to build at least 450 miles of wall by the 2020 election. The administration was reportedly planning to use the $3.6 billion to build 175 miles of barriers.

“Once again, the courts have resoundingly ruled against the President’s attempt to negate our system of separation of powers, which is the genius of our Constitution, by assaulting Congress’s exclusive constitutional power of the purse,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Despite what the President may think, Article II does not mean that he can ‘do whatever he wants.’”

But the court ruling only affects one pool of money Trump had wanted to use for his wall. “The Trump administration has budgeted nearly $10 billion for barrier construction to date, so the ruling affects roughly one-third of the money the president plans to spend on his signature project,” The Washington Post reported. The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the administration could use a separate pool of $2.5 billion from a Pentagon counter-narcotics fund to pay for barrier construction.

How the US Wasted Billions ‘Nation-Building’ in Afghanistan

Here’s more from The Washington Post’s landmark investigative series on the secret history of the war in Afghanistan, published this week:

“Since 2001, Washington has spent more on nation-building in Afghanistan than in any country ever, allocating $133 billion for reconstruction, aid programs and the Afghan security forces.

“Adjusted for inflation, that is more than the United States spent in Western Europe with the Marshall Plan after World War II.

“Unlike the Marshall Plan, however, the exorbitant nation-building project for Afghanistan went awry from the start and grew worse as the war dragged on, according to a trove of confidential government interviews with diplomats, military officials and aid workers who played a direct role in the conflict.

“Instead of bringing stability and peace, they said, the United States inadvertently built a corrupt, dysfunctional Afghan government that remains dependent on U.S. military power for its survival. Assuming it does not collapse, U.S. officials have said it will need billions more dollars in aid annually, for decades.”

Read more at The Washington Post.

Shocking Health Care Statistic of the Day

Consumer health insurance costs are up more than 20% year over year, according to the Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index data released Wednesday. Medical care costs overall have risen 4.2% from a year ago.

“If you actually pay out of pocket with a deductible or pay for insurance, then you are experiencing a problem with healthcare inflation that the CPI is capturing,” Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at the Bleakley Advisory Group wrote to clients Wednesday.

Health care insurance alone has added more than 0.3 percentage points to the core inflation rate in the last year, says Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, while noting that the index “measures the administrative costs and profits of insurers, not premiums.”

Number of the Day: 4.7 Million

That’s how many people in the U.S. currently without health insurance could get coverage next year — at no cost to themselves — through the Obamacare marketplace, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“We estimate that 28% of uninsured individuals who could shop on the Marketplace, or 4.7 million people nationwide, are eligible to purchase a bronze plan with $0 premiums after subsidies in 2020,” the report says. “This figure is similar to 2019, when 27% of uninsured individuals, or 4.2 million people, could purchase a no-premium bronze plan.”

Quote of the Day

“Your two highest health care officials feuding will be damaging to policy wins.”

– An unnamed former senior Trump administration official when asked by Politico whether the reported tensions between Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services secretary, and Seema Verma, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator, was affecting the administration’s health care policy agenda. Another Politico source called the feud between the two “a f---ing soap opera.”

The two health care officials have reportedly been called to the White House for a Wednesday evening meeting in the latest attempt to repair their working relationship.


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