May 14, 2018

HHS: Trump's plan for drug prices does have more negotiations

HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said today that the Trump administration's plan for lowering drug costs relies on expanded price negotiations — just not the kind Democrats have called for in the past, and which President Trump seemed to embrace during the campaign.

The catch: The administration's plan would pull more drugs into an existing system of price negotiations within Medicare. But it’s not clear how many drugs would be affected or how much of that shift the administration could make on its own, without help from Congress.

Between the lines: Some early reaction to the White House’s drug-pricing plan — including from Democrats pooh-poohing it — has focused on the fact that it does not call for Medicare to directly negotiate what it will pay for prescription drugs.

The other side: “These are big moves, this is harnessing Medicare, this is negotiation,” Azar told reporters today.

  • He dismissed direct government negotiations as “trite, gimmicky, political proposals.”

How it works: Instead, the administration wants to move some drugs from Medicare Part B into Medicare Part D.

  • Part B covers drug administered by a doctor; it pays a fixed rate for those services.
  • Part D covers drugs you take yourself; it relies on privately administered insurance plans, which negotiate discounts off of drugs’ sticker prices.
  • So, moving some drugs from Part B to Part D would expose them to price negotiations from which they’re currently shielded.

The big questions: Azar said the administration is still figuring out which drugs to move into Part D.

  • It’s also not clear how aggressively HHS could move on its own. Azar said he could move at least some drugs from Part B to Part D, using his authority to conduct payment experiments. But the administration has also asked Congress for express authority to make such moves.

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Police officer in George Floyd killing arrested

A protester with a sign with George Floyd's last words. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer involved in the killing of George Floyd, was taken into custody Friday by Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, according to the Star Tribune's Briana Bierschbach.

The state of play: Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said that there was no additional charging information yet, as that decision is in the jurisdiction of the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated.

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President Trump's war with Twitter is confronting social media platforms with a hard dilemma: whether to take fuller responsibility for what people say on their services, or to step back and assume a more quasi-governmental role.

The big picture: Facebook is trying to be more like a government committing to impartiality and protecting free speech and building mechanisms for arbitration. Twitter, pushed by Trump's inflammatory messages, is opting to more aggressively enforce conduct rules on its private property, like a mall owner enforcing rules inside the gates.

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