Moderna vs. Bernie
Mark your calendars for March 22, the big showdown between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel. The Covid-19 vaccine maker’s leader agreed to testify before the Senate HELP Committee after a fiery back-and-forth in recent weeks, my colleagues Ed Silverman and Sarah Owermohle report.
Moderna made a big announcement yesterday that its vaccine will still be available for free for patients, even after the supplies the federal government bought ran out. The company had faced intense criticism, including a letter from Sanders, after announcing initial plans to charge $110 to $130 per dose on the commercial market. (Though insurers will still pay the higher price, which contributes to overall health care spending.)
Sarah and Ed break down all the context you need to know about the recent public sparring.
Can food be medicine?
MOLLY FERGUSON / FOR STAT
Our former D.C. Diagnosis author Nick Florko has a new deep dive out today about the “food is medicine” movement having a big moment in the policy world, with support from the White House and money flowing in from all directions.
“We are at the inflection point,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean for policy at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “Five or six years ago I would go to major healthcare organizations and talk about food [is] medicine and I’d get blank stares, crickets, and polite emails.”
But hurdles remain, including a lack of uptake from physicians and insurers. Nick asked more than a dozen food policy experts, researchers, insurance executives, investors and food advocacy organizations about the future of the movement — read his story here.
Twice as nice, health care hearing edition
Health care hearings in the Senate are picking up steam this week after the chamber’s slow start to the year, and today is a juicy double feature. More from my colleagues Sarah Owermohle and John Wilkerson:
Senate Commerce Committee on PBM reforms: The panel is scheduled to hold a hearing on a bill that takes aim at drug middleman business practices, including spread pricing, that raise the ire of pharmacies. Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) plans to pass the bill out of committee “within the next several weeks,” a committee spokesperson said.
PBM reform is among the policy areas that could get bipartisan support during a divided Congress. Cantwell also is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has been the lead on the issue before now. Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said he has spoken to Republicans in the Senate and House about PBM reforms, and Finance ranking Republican Bill Cassidy (La.) is a willing partner. “Sen. Cantwell and I have been talking about this for a long time together,” Wyden said.
The PBM lobbying group PCMA says the bill would not lower prices and would weaken PBMs’ power to create competition in the drug marketplace.
HELP Committee on the health care workforce: The Senate HELP Committee kicks off its year with a hearing this morning on health care workforce shortages, one of the few issues both Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and ranking member Bill Cassidy (R-La.) have cited as an area for bipartisan work.
However many of the proposals to turn trends around — like expanding Medicare residency programs or increasing physician payments and educational assistance — would cost money, putting potential bills in budget crosshairs. Senators will hear mostly from medical college leaders and an executive from Ochsner Health, a non-profit hospital system from Cassidy’s home state. The witnesses are expected to lament bottlenecks in residency programs, burnout and rural deserts.'
A Cassidy spokesperson said the ranking member plans to ask about increasing nursing educational opportunities for nurses to move up their career, and to talk about factors in physician burnout like cumbersome electronic health records.