As a postscript to my column “Political Mythology & Health Care,” published in The Signal on Dec. 19, Congress recently capitulated to health-care special interests and dropped consumer-friendly health-care legislation. The premise of my column was that Congress is deeply engaged in promoting political mythology rather than dealing with the underlying issues that adversely affect health care delivery.
The budget bill that passed on Dec. 16 contained a bipartisan-supported provision that would have prevented pharmaceutical companies from limiting access to branded and biologic drugs necessary for generic and biosimilar drug development. Obviously, this would have facilitated faster development of generic drugs. The provision was dropped from the final bill.
Another provision, which was included in the final bill, expanded the definition of biologic drugs to include chemically synthesized polypeptides. This change effectively extends the period of patent protection for these drugs, delaying when less expensive generic drugs can be sold.
The bill included a number of widely reported provisions eliminating portions of the Affordable Care Act. It also included restrictions on the Trump administration’s ability to ban “silver-loading.” Insurance companies can continue to increase premiums on silver-level health care plans to compensate for the Trump administration’s decision to terminate government cost-sharing payments.
Apart from the budget bill, health-care industry lobbying successfully killed two bills that were believed to have bipartisan support. The first was a bill sponsored by the Democrats that would have placed an inflation-based limitation on Medicare drug price increases. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that the Senate will not consider the legislation because a number of Republican senators do not support it.
The second bill would have prevented hospital patients from receiving surprise medical bills. These bills arise when a patient is treated in a hospital that is in their insurance network, but is treated by a doctor or laboratory that is out of network. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer essentially killed this measure after a group of New York hospitals purportedly donated at least $1 million to the Senate Democratic fundraising arm.
I guess Congress needs to fill its political coffers in anticipation of what is likely to be an expensive 2020 election. Meanwhile, the underlying issues surrounding our health-care system continue to be ignored despite the fact that health care is a major issue for voters in the 2020 election.
Jim de Bree