February 16, 2023
Reporter, D.C. Diagnosis Writer

Happy Thursday, D.C. Diagnosis readers! My biotech colleagues interviewed Novartis CEO and new PhRMA Board Chair Vas Narasimhan on their podcast that’s dropping later today, so be sure to watch for it! Always feel free to drop me a line at rachel.cohrs@statnews.com.


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.

big ideas

Can food be medicine?

FoodRX_Illustration_MollyFerguson_021323-1600x900MOLLY 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.

capitol hill

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.


drug pricing

Models and MEDCACs and Medicare calls, oh my!

There’s been a lot of news about drug pricing lately. Here’s your quick rundown:

  • In a late afternoon gift to reporters and policy wonks on Valentine’s Day, CMMI announced three new drug pricing demos it’s planning to pursue related to paying for drugs with accelerated approvals, cell and gene therapies in Medicaid, and generic drugs. John and I have the rundown, and a caveat about why some of these plans may not come to fruition.
  • Medicare advisers had a 12-hour meeting this week on its Coverage with Evidence Development coverage tool that’s gotten a whole lot of attention recently because CMS has applied it to a class of new, controversial Alzheimer’s drugs. Here are my takeaways.
  • CMS is holding its latest call with drugmakers to talk IRA implementation on Feb. 27, according to a meeting notice, per John and my colleague Bob Herman. This time, the agency’s new inflation rebate guidance is on the agenda.


Teva positioned to pick new generic lobby leader

The Association for Accessible Medicines this week named Teva executive Christine Baeder as its board chair, positioning Teva to lead the search for a new head of the generic drug lobbying group, John reports.

Baeder succeeds Chirag Patel, co-CEO of Amneal Pharmaceuticals. Patel served a one-year term, though AAM board chairs are allowed to serve two consecutive one-year terms.

AAM has been led by interim CEO David Gaugh since the ouster of former President Dan Leonard in December. 

More around STAT
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What we’re reading

  • Roaches in the operating room: Doctors at HCA hospital in Florida say patient care has suffered from cost cutting, NBC News
  • Doctors’ top lobbyist in Washington on Medicare money, burnout, and private equity, STAT
  • Opinion: Why I’m Resigning as an FTC Commissioner, Wall Street Journal
  • Biogen, having ‘lost its way,’ looks to drug launches for Alzheimer’s and depression for return to growth, STAT
  • Governments target medical debt with Covid relief funds, Associated Press
  • FDA advisers recommend approval of over-the-counter naloxone to fight opioid overdose, STAT

Thanks for reading! More next week,

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