Good morning … It’s budget day! Just a reminder that presidents’ budget requests matter as a statement of priorities and not much more.
Axios’ Caitlin Owens and Bob Herman reported Friday that the pharmaceutical industry was “blindsided” when Congress’ big budget deal ended up putting them on the hook for billions of dollars in discounts for seniors.
Yes, but: It could have been a lot worse, Caitlin and Bob report today. Although pharma wasn’t thrilled about those discounts in Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, it succeeded in keeping a different and (for pharma) scarier proposal — the CREATES Act — out of the budget agreement.
And, and, and: Although doctors and hospitals were the most vocal critics of the Independent Payment Advisory Board — the cost-cutting panel created by the Affordable Care Act and repealed by the budget deal — pharma will benefit from its death, as well.
Go deeper: Caitlin and Bob have much more on pharma’s wild week — and what’s to come as President Trump releases his budget outline today. Read their story on axios.com.
Sure, Trump says he wants to take on drug prices, but the Council of Economic Advisers white paper that serves as the backing for his budget proposals is pretty pharma-friendly. It’s full of the kinds of buzzwords the industry loves, like “competition” and “innovation.”
Key quote, from the CEA paper itself:
“Bad government policies or insurance programs that prevent, rather than foster, healthy price competition often induce artificially high prices in the United States. The U.S. biopharmaceutical industry is the engine of worldwide biopharmaceutical innovation and an important part of our economy. Preserving this industry and encouraging it to innovate while making drugs more available and affordable for all Americans is an attainable goal.”
The bottom line: The Trump drug prices plan won’t exactly be the second coming of Bernie Sanders.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones during an interview with the LA Times in 2014. Photo by Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is investigating Aetna after one of the company’s former medical directors said he never reviewed patients’ information himself when deciding whether to approve claims. The doctor, Jay Ken Iinuma, said in a 2016 deposition that he relied on recommendations from nurses, CNN reports.
The other side: In response to CNN’s questions, Aetna defended both its handling of the individual case for which Iinuma was deposed and its broader practices.
President Trump and VA Secretary David Shulkin (center) talk with a telehealth patient in 2017. Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images
As Bob reported last week, Medicare Advantage insurers will soon be able to start using telehealth services as a core benefit, instead of only as an add-on, thanks to Congress’ big spending agreement.
Yes, but: Telehealth still has restrictive conditions in traditional Medicare, the golden goose for telehealth companies. Policy analysts also hold concerns telehealth won’t save money if virtual visits simply prelude physical visits.
What we’re watching this week: Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar heads to Capitol Hill to testify in defense of the White House’s budget request for HHS. He'll be at the Ways & Means Committee on Wednesday, and on Thursday will appear before both the Finance and the Energy and Commerce panels.
The Senate health committee holds a hearing Tuesday on the Food and Drug Administration’s user fee program for the review of animal drugs.
What else should we be watching? I always want your tips, feedback, questions and suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org.