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Photo: George Frey/Getty Images

Congress recently put the pharmaceutical industry on the hook for more of seniors' drug costs, but the industry is pushing lawmakers to reverse that policy as part of a bill to address the opioid crisis.

The big picture: Congress voted earlier this year to shift billions of dollars in Medicare drug costs away from seniors and onto drug companies. Now, "PhRMA is begging" lawmakers to reverse that decision in unrelated opioids legislation, a GOP congressional aide said.

The details: A February spending bill required drugmakers to cover more of the costs seniors incur when they fall into Medicare's "donut hole."

  • It was a rare lobbying loss for the industry. Its leading trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, has been lobbying aggressively on the issue ever since.
  • After failing to get lawmakers to reverse the hit in subsequent spending bills, the industry's focus has now shifted to the opioids package being finalized by House and Senate leaders, according to lobbyists and congressional aides familiar with the process.
  • "Sounds like the size of the fix for pharma could be maybe 2-3x bigger than the opioids funding," a House Democratic aide said.

Industry is trying to broker a compromise, those sources said: Eliminate the multibillion-dollar tab drug companies would absorb for Medicare's "donut hole," and in exchange industry would accept a version of a bill designed to stop brand-name drugmakers from blocking generic competitors.

Yes, but: None of this has anything to do with the opioid crisis, which has so far been a rare example of bipartisan agreement. And there's reason to be highly skeptical Democrats would go along with the industry's latest request.

  • "If you're a Democrat, why do you want to do this?" one pharmaceutical lobbyist asked.
  • It's also unclear whether Republicans will go along. The GOP congressional aide said his party won't force the issue unless PhRMA can lock in Democratic support on its own.

Go deeper

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

Australian PM pledges $700M for climate change-threatened Great Barrier reef

A green sea turtle is flourishing among the corals at Lady Elliot island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Friday a AU$1 billion ($703 million) investment plan for the Great Barrier Reef.

Why it matters: The nine-year plan for projects including water quality improvement, reef conservation and supporting some 64,000 tourism jobs comes months ahead of this year's federal election. It has been criticized by scientists and environmental groups for failing to tackle climate change.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.