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QALYs bill passes House on party-line vote

Feb 7, 2024
Illustration of a hand holding an approval stamp hovering over a pill.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The House on Wednesday narrowly passed legislation that would prohibit quality-adjusted life years from being used in federal health programs.

Why it matters: The health metric has been widely criticized for being discriminatory and devaluing people with disabilities. But health policy experts say it's critical in analyzing the costs and benefits of drugs.

Driving the news: The bill, a priority of Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, passed in a party-line vote of 211–208.

  • But it could face long odds in the Senate after the White House came out against the measure.
  • The Biden administration said the legislation would undermine the Affordable Care Act by stripping dollars from the law's Prevention and Public Health Fund.
  • "Measures of effectiveness are essential to delivering higher-quality and lower health care costs, and are an important part of our health care system," the White House said.
  • Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone also argued that it could allow pharmaceutical companies to mount legal challenges to drug price negotiations and contend efforts to reduce costs are not acceptable.

Catch up quick: QALYS are used to calculate how many years a drug could help prolong a person's life, but factor how a patient feels during those extra years.

  • It's one way health program administrators decide if a medicine is worth its price.
  • But critics say they're inconsistently applied across federal programs.
  • Some House Democrats back the idea of stopping the use of QALYs but want to ensure that other nondiscriminatory comparative effectiveness measures are still used to determine drug coverage.
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