Good morning … All the best to Tim Jost, who has been a patient, accessible and indispensably smart expert on just about every twist and turn of the Affordable Care Act's entire life. Jost is stepping away from his regular contributions to the Health Affairs blog, which is a well-deserved break for him but a big loss for the rest of us.
I told you 2018 would be bad.
All of the things that were on Congress' end-of-year to-do list are now on its January to-do list. But it's not clear how many of them will actually get done this month, my colleague Caitlin Owens reports this morning.
Go deeper: Read Caitlin's full story in the Axios stream.
A handful of drug companies rang in 2018 with price hikes that easily surpass inflation but stay conspicuously below double digits, my colleague Bob Herman reports. Investment banks Jefferies and Cowen highlighted some of the big ones:
But wait, there's more: Cowen conducted a survey of large drug purchasers, and most said drug prices will continue to rise. More than three-quarters of respondents also said there's almost no chance U.S. drug price controls will occur in the next three years.
Alex Azar — President Trump's nominee for HHS secretary — will get a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Jan. 9. (Trump technically needs to renominate him first, but that, presumably, will happen.)
Why it matters: HHS hasn't had a Senate-confirmed secretary since September, but the wait likely won't last much longer. Azar emerged largely unscathed from his hearing before the Senate HELP Committee last year; Finance is the committee that would actually move his nomination to the Senate floor.
Very few people outside the health care industry probably even know that there's a war going on between pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), but inside Washington, it's raging.
The bigger picture: The Washington Post has a good breakdown of the feud, which has helped spread the finger-pointing over drug pricing. This, in turn, has stopped lawmakers from actually cracking down on either industry's profits.
Key quote: "It is so convoluted and so complicated," Gerard Anderson, a professor at Johns Hopkins, told the Post. "The PBMs have grown in power and profitability over the last 10 years, and are becoming a huge force. The drug companies, they're the ones that raise prices. It's definitely a synergistic relationship. We've got two bad actors, we don't have one."
The Senate — along with the Republican party — is losing one of its longest-serving leaders on health care policy, with Sen. Orrin Hatch's announcement yesterday that he won't run for reelection this year. Hatch's fingerprints are on some of the most significant health care laws of the past 30-plus years.
What's next: If Republicans still control the Senate after this year's midterms, Sen. Chuck Grassley would have the right of first refusal to take Hatch's place as the chairman of the Finance Committee.
Point of personal privilege: I'm pretty sure Orrin Hatch was the first elected official I ever interviewed. I was 16 and covering the 2000 Republican convention, but had no idea of how to go about doing that. I recognized Hatch from TV, at some reception I probably wasn't supposed to attend, and by the end of the week he was one of the only members of Congress who had been willing to take a few minutes for my extremely unsophisticated questions.
By now I've trailed him in the Senate hallways roughly one million times, enough to know he's almost always talkative with the press. That short interview wasn't access, though; it was charity. I, of course, take no position on Hatch's politics, but just as a person, it was very kind of him, and it meant a lot to an aspiring journalist — enough that I still remember it almost 20 years later.