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Daily News

December 12, 2019

The Senate on Thursday (Dec. 12) confirmed Stephen Hahn to be the full-time FDA commissioner by a vote of 72 to 18.

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Despite its plan to follow a federal court decision and repay hospitals for deep cuts to clinic visits at certain off-campus hospital facilities for 2019, CMS tells Inside Health Policy it will implement the second year of those so-called site-neutral pay cuts to the same providers in 2020.

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The National Association of Insurance Commissioners last week told CMS there is no reason to craft federal guidelines to facilitate the sale of health insurance across state lines because states already have that authority and no insurers have expressed interest in participating in existing interstate compacts.

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While Medicare Advantage plans have new flexibility to offer supplemental benefits to beneficiaries with chronic illnesses, uptake has been limited due to operational challenges and lack of CMS guidance, researchers from the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy say.

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Federal lawmakers from California grilled the American Kidney Fund over its decision to stop providing premium assistance to about 3,700 patients with end-stage renal disease, but AKF says it made it clear the charity could not operate under a recently enacted California bill and believes the state is looking for someone to blame now that about 3,700 patients will lose premium assistance.

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FDA is demanding Alkermes stop publishing a print advertisement for its extended-release naltrexone drug Vivitrol, which is used to treat opioid addiction, because the ad fails to warn fatal overdoses could occur if the treatment lapses.

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December 11, 2019

More than 1 million people selected plans through healthcare.gov in the sixth week of open enrollment, CMS reported Wednesday (Dec. 11), and cumulative enrollments were near 3.9 million from Nov. 1 through Dec. 7.

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CMS tells Inside Health Policy it plans to repay hospitals that sued over 2019 pay cuts from the agency’s so-called site-neutral policy.

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House Ways & Means Committee leaders released a bipartisan agreement to end surprise medical bills and said they want Congress to take up the issue in 2020 rather than rush to pass a policy by year’s end.

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The Senate Commerce Committee chair wants the air ambulance policy in the House and Senate surprise billing deal removed unless it's changed to his liking, but he declined to describe the changes he is seeking.

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The House Rules Committee on Tuesday (Dec. 10) cleared House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s drug pricing bill (H.R. 3) for a floor vote after Pelosi reached a deal with progressives to increase the minimum number of drugs subject to negotiation each year to 50 and to restore Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s (D-WA) amendment to extend price-spike protections to private plans.

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Mental health and community health center advocates are pushing for passage of surprise billing and drug pricing legislation since the various bills include funding extensions for community health centers and mental health clinics -- a move one congressional staffer close to the Senate Finance Committee bill said was meant to bolster the overall package.

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House Democrats are still negotiating a possible delay or repeal of three controversial health care taxes in a year-end spending package, but advocates for the tax delays worry that negotiations could be bumped into early 2020 due to an increasingly short timeline to pass a difficult spending bill or package and House and Senate leadership prioritizing other legislation.

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House Energy & Commerce Committee members asked FDA drug center chief Janet Woodcock how foreign staffing shortages are limiting agency inspections of drug manufacturers abroad during an oversight hearing Tuesday (Dec. 10).

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other conservative lawmakers intend to pursue an expansion of FDA’s Parallel Track program if Stephen Hahn is appointed as FDA commissioner, even though FDA already has similar programs, such as Expanded Access, already in place, as well as a new pilot program, Project Facilitate.

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House and Senate lawmakers urge CMS to make it clear to Medicare beneficiaries that they could qualify for a special enrollment period if they were misled by information in the Medicare Plan Finder, coming after beneficiary advocates said there are a number of problems with the updated website.

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The Congressional Progressive Caucus expressed optimism it would get at least one of its amendments added to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s drug pricing bill, following a meeting between caucus leaders and the California Democrat Tuesday afternoon (Dec.10).

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December 10, 2019

At least six justices on the Supreme Court appear willing to side with health insurance companies in their quest to collect billions of dollars in risk corridor payments that were envisioned by the Affordable Care Act but were subsequently held up by Congress.

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GOP lawmakers on a House Energy & Commerce subcommittee took advantage of a Tuesday (Dec. 10) hearing meant to explore ways to move to universal health care to instead blast Democrats’ drug pricing legislation that heads for a vote this week.

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All but $5 billion from the half a trillion dollars in overall savings from House Democrats’ drug pricing bill would be absorbed by new Medicare benefits for seniors and other investments, according to the final budget-impact projection by the Congressional Budget Office.

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