Democrats pushed through the House Thursday legislation that they say fortifies the ACA and also curbs prescription drug prices.  The bill seems engineered with next year’s elections in mind since it has no chance of surviving in the Senate or getting President Trump’s signature. The measure forced Republicans into the uncomfortable political position of casting a single vote on legislation that contained popular bi-partisan drug pricing restraints they support, but also language they oppose about the Affordable Care Act.  [The bill would undo many of the consumer-friendly changes the Trump administration has made through its regulatory authority]. In the end, all but five voting Republicans opposed the overall package; the measure passed by a mostly party-line vote of 234-183.

By all accounts, Robert Pear of the New York Times was one of the most relentlessly probing journalists on the healthcare beat, enlightening readers and rankling partisans with the clarity of his reportage and his savantlike understanding of the federal government and its arcana. With a seemingly ever-present byline on Page One of the Times, Mr. Pear was a constant and authoritative presence in Washington for four decades. He died May 7 at 69 at a hospice center in Rockville, Md. The cause was complications from a severe stroke that he suffered April 29, said his brother, Doug Pear. [Robert was the quintessential journalist who was always fair and thorough.  We will miss Robert’s kindness and his incredible devotion to informing the health reform debate. RIP.]

Americans pay a lot for pharmaceuticals, and politicians of all stripes are offering prescription drug price-relief proposals to force prices downward. Top-down approaches, though, carry a high chance of failure. The astronomical price incorporates the massive up-front costs of testing and gaining FDA approval. The often erratic and unpredictable process can take 15 years and $1.5 billion. Most prospective drugs never make it to market. That’s much of what you’re paying for. Second, despite popular perception, drug manufacturers are only middle-of-the-road among American industries in terms of profitability. Employ blunt price controls, and you’ll likely cut industry profitability, drive investors away, and discourage development of new drugs.

Pharmacists and some health experts are opposing a legislative proposal to permit the wholesale bulk importation of drugs from Canada to Maine, arguing that it could result in unsafe drugs coming in to Maine and drug shortages in Canada. Kenneth McCall, past president of the Maine Pharmacy Association, said that trying to import Canadian price controls is a flawed model that would lead to drugs of dubious quality coming fromoverseas countries and unscrupulous sellers.

What is a more limited-government, pro-market (not simply pro-business) health policy reformer supposed to do? There are plenty of other short-term poses one might adopt. Accept a lot of givens as too politically difficult to challenge and then suggest quarter-way compromises that slow the pace of retreat. Or try procedural sidesteps that alter the venue of policy development (let the states do it!), without greater guarantees than what shuffling a somewhat altered deck of cards with a different set of political intermediaries offers. Or propose new tricks of manipulating magic money from somewhere else (reinsurance, reshuffled subsidies, formulaic reimbursement and benefit cuts) in the further away future.

The Trump administration has been pushing for lower drug prices, and some drug manufacturers have responded by lowering prices and providing greater access to life-saving treatments. However, there is a growing concern among health care providers that the middlemen who negotiate drug prices on behalf of insurers—known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs)—are actively working to keep prices high for consumers, presumably in an effort to increase their own profits. I run a free cardiovascular risk reduction service at a local clinic where we see many patients either suffering from, or at high risk for, heart disease. In collaboration with providers, I work to apply evidence-based medicine in the clinical setting and ensure any new treatment is financially sustainable for a patient—a task that can be made difficult by profit-driven insurance companies denying medication access and PBMs that keep treatment costs high.

The Justice Department has appealed a federal judge’s decision to strike down work requirements in Kentucky and Arkansas pertaining to certain Medicaid beneficiaries. The case will go before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia after being struck down March 27 by Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, an appointee of former President Obama. At issue are rules the Trump administration approved in the states obligating some people who are able to work, volunteer, or take classes for 80 hours a month to be allowed to remain on Medicaid. The rules don’t apply to caregivers, parents, and people undergoing treatment for serious illness.

Seeking to show Republicans’ commitment to protecting those with pre-existing conditions, a group of GOP senators led by Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina is reviving and expanding a bill that would retain at least some of the protections built into Obamacare. The move is an attempt to address concerns that the popular and ironclad provisions secured by the ACA may disappear amid President Trump’s renewed drive to overturn the landmark health reform law. It comes as Democrats offer up an array of new proposals for universal, government-backed health coverage. The bill’s introduction comes less than two weeks after the Trump administration said in a federal appeals filing that the entire ACA should be struck down.

A federal judge on Thursday rejected the Trump administration’s attempts to expand access to association health plan. U.S. District Judge John Bates in Washington said the administration’s final rule allowing associations and employers to band together to create AHPs goes beyond its authority under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Trump administration’s rule allows employers to join together to gain more efficiencies of scale in purchasing coverage and services, and the plans are more affordable because they don’t have to follow many ACA rules. 

Democrats in the House of Representatives have put aside grandiose thoughts of Medicare-for-All and single-payer health insurance – at least for a day or two. Instead, they have introduced a new health plan with a more modest goal: making Obamacare work better.

It has three elements:

  • Expand health insurance subsidies to everyone. (Individuals are currently ineligible for help if they earn $48,560 or more.)
  • Create a national reinsurance pool to subsidize insurance companies that incur high costs.
  • Reverse Trump administration regulations that make it easier to obtain limited-benefit insurance.

So, what’s wrong with that? For starters, it uses taxpayer dollars to give money to rich people and insurance companies.