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E&C hearing previews debate on fentanyl, quality of life measures

Feb 1, 2023
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington and chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, speaks during a business meeting in Washington, DC, US, on Tuesday, Jan. 31

McMorris Rodgers speaks during a business meeting on Tuesday. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The House Energy and Commerce health care subcommittee tackled fentanyl and QALYs in its first hearing of the new Congress — and lurking in the background of the conversation was the debt ceiling’s effect on entitlement programs.

Why it matters: The debt ceiling is going to be the issue that colors all health care debates this year. Today was only a small preview.

  • “If my Republican colleagues want to discuss how best to protect the disability community, we should consider the impacts of proposed cuts that the Republican majority wants to make in exchange for a debt ceiling increase,” Rep. Frank Pallone said during his opening remarks.

Here’s what else you need to know from the hearing:

1. Lawmakers are still far from a consensus on how to prevent the spread of fentanyl-related substances, despite having discussed the topic for nearly five years now.

  • Republicans continue to rally around the HALT Fentanyl Act, which would permanently classify the substances as Schedule 1 drugs. That would create mandatory minimum prison sentences for individuals convicted with related crimes. 
  • While some Democratic committee members like Rep. Angie Craig said they support class-wide scheduling, others are standing firm against the policy. The Biden administration supports permanent scheduling, but with specific guardrails not included in the GOP bill.

2. There’s a catch to Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers’s legislation seeking to prohibit QALYs from federal programs. (It's a personal issue to her, since her son was born with Down syndrome, and QALYs devalue treatments for people with disabilities who have shorter life expectancy.)

  • The GOP-sponsored bill to stop the use of metrics that peg a drug’s value to the quantity and quality of life years gained from its use has garnered some interest from Democrats, including Rep. Anna Eshoo, the subcommittee’s ranking member.
  • But the bill could have adverse consequences, Families USA Executive Director Frederick Isasi argued during the hearing. The legislation’s broad language would create a loophole for pharmaceutical companies to gouge prices for drugs, he said.
  • McMorris Rodgers said after Isasi's testimony she's open to working on the bill's language.
  • Worth noting: Very few Democrats stayed in the hearing room long enough to weigh in on QALYs.
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