Andrew Siddons

New FDA cigarette labels include realistic images of smoking-related health problems
The long-delayed warnings, now subject to public comment, would update textual statements already on cigarette packs

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed long-delayed graphic health warnings for cigarette packages, taking a step toward fulfilling a requirement of a decade-old smoking prevention law.

The new warning label proposal will now be subject to a public comment period, and is under a court-ordered deadline to be finalized by March 15, 2020.

Gun research funding push faces challenge in Senate even after shootings
House-passed bill would be first time in decades Congress allocated funding specifically for gun violence research

Democrats in Congress are amplifying their calls to fund more research on gun violence after the recent mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, but Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Chairman Roy Blunt suggested Thursday he wouldn’t support new funding in that area.

The dispute over $50 million for gun violence prevention research could pose an additional challenge in the effort to avoid a government shutdown this fall.

Senate bill aims to protect taxpayers from costly drugs
Seeks to help Medicare control costs so premiums can remain stable

Congress this year could enact the biggest overhaul of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit since it was first established in 2003. If successful, seniors — and taxpayers — would be more insulated against the cost of the most expensive drugs. 

One proposed change is meant to help Medicare control the costs it absorbs so that the program’s premiums can remain stable despite increasing drug prices. Supporters of the drug program tout its low premiums, with the Trump administration and the private insurers who run Part D recently highlighting that average consumer premiums will fall in 2020.

HHS outlines drug import plans as Canada ratchets up concern
Canadians are worried that drugmakers could try to raise prices on the drugs sold there

The Trump administration on Wednesday announced plans to help states and others import lower-cost drugs from Canada, a popular but controversial idea that President Trump has embraced but that the Canadian government has pushed back on.

The plans outlined Wednesday will offer guidelines for setting up drug importation programs, but they also highlighted the challenges of this approach to lowering drug prices for consumers in the United States.

Finance advances drug price measure with tepid GOP support
Only six of the panel’s 15 Republicans voted to advance the measure

The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday approved, 19-9, a draft bill meant to reduce the cost of drugs in Medicare and Medicaid.

Only six of the panel’s 15 Republicans voted to advance the measure, joining all 13 Democrats. The most controversial amendments to the measure were rejected on mostly party-line votes.

Juul under continued scrutiny over flavors, marketing tactics
Juul officials will appear before panel Thursday and will likely address Wednesday allegations

The popular e-cigarette Juul is under renewed scrutiny by Congress thanks to two days of hearings that could pressure lawmakers to act on e-cigarette flavors that appeal to young people.

On Wednesday, the House Oversight and Reform Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee heard from witnesses about the company’s efforts to attract some vulnerable populations, namely teenagers and American Indians.

Finance drug price bill faces GOP resistance before markup
Proposals target Medicare drug prices

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday outlined a long-anticipated drug price bill, but a planned Thursday markup may not go smoothly because of Republican discontent with the measure.

The bill is meant to slow the growth of Medicare’s prescription drug spending, limit cost-sharing for Medicare beneficiaries, and make it easier for state Medicaid programs to pay for expensive treatments, according to a summary.

Drug price transparency prompts fight among Democrats
Dispute is partly a turf battle between two committees who want to produce legislation on a high-profile issue

A dispute among Democrats over competing drug price transparency bills is complicating an issue that should have been one of the least controversial parts of the congressional effort to lower health care costs.

Two panels that oversee health care issues each approved measures this year to require drug companies to reveal information when they increase prices. While consumer advocates note drawbacks with both, they clearly prefer a measure from the Energy and Commerce Committee by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, over a similar Ways and Means Committee bill.

Congress is Trump’s best hope for drug pricing action
But divisions remain between Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate

An upcoming Senate bill is the Trump administration’s best hope for a significant achievement before next year’s election to lower prescription drug prices, but a lot still needs to go right for anything to become law.

Despite the overwhelming desire for action, there are still policy gulfs between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, and another gap between the Senate and the House. And the politics of the moment might derail potential policy agreements. Some Democrats might balk at settling for a drug pricing compromise that President Donald Trump endorsed.

Papaya outbreak highlights FDA’s food safety challenge
‘Inability to track and trace foods with speed or precision’ is agency’s ‘Achilles’ heel’

Salmonella infections caused by contaminated papayas highlight the challenges federal officials face in fighting foodborne illness, as a law from nearly a decade ago meant to modernize the food safety system is starting to show its age. 

The Food and Drug Administration is trying to bring its efforts to track and prevent outbreaks in line with the technology now at its disposal. But because spending for next year is uncertain, Congress could make it difficult for the agency.

Trump order to make medical service costs more transparent
The order will require hospitals and insurers to provide more information on costs of medical services before patients receive them

President Donald Trump on Monday will issue an executive order directing his administration to put rules in place requiring hospitals and insurers to provide more information about the costs of medical services before a patient receives them.

The order will kick off a process at the Health and Human Services Department to develop rules for the transparency requirements. The new rules will be meant to require hospitals to publicly post charges for common items and services in a consumer-friendly manner, and to require insurers to inform patients about the amounts they must pay before services are actually provided.

Odd bedfellows share concerns over Pelosi drug plan
Conservatives and progressives wary of drug price arbitration, but for different reasons

Debate on e-cigarettes lights up 10 years after FDA tobacco law
Calls grow for agency, Congress to do more after spike in teen use

A decade after Congress gave the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products, there is a growing sense that the law should be revisited to address a product that lawmakers barely knew about in June 2009: electronic cigarettes.

The tension lies in how to balance e-cigarettes’ potential benefits with their clear risks. While e-cigarettes may offer a less harmful alternative for adults who smoke combustible cigarettes, they can appeal to young people who never would have smoked.

McConnell introduces bill making the legal smoking age 21
“Youth vaping is a public health crisis,” Kentucky Republican says

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday introduced a bill to raise the federal age for purchasing tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21, increasing the chances that Congress will clear a significant smoking-related bill for the first time since a major tobacco control law was enacted a decade ago.

The bill comes amid growing concerns about the youth use of e-cigarettes, which reached record levels in 2018. That marked a troubling reversal of declines in smoking traditional cigarettes.

House health care bill puts generic drug industry in bind
Low-cost generic drug makers expected a floor vote on a signature bill, but the law is being packaged with two measures industry opposes

This was supposed to be a good week for the makers of low-cost generic drugs, as a bill that is one of their top priorities gets a House floor vote. Instead, the industry finds itself clouded by allegations of price fixing, and its signature bill is being packaged with two measures they oppose.

The bill that the House will take up Thursday combines three drug pricing measures with bills to strengthen the individual health insurance market.

Mental health clinics wait on Congress
If federal lawmakers don’t renew a promising program before the end of June, it will be up to the states to find the money

The promise of higher federal Medicaid payments is giving eight states the chance to show that one-stop mental health clinics with 24-hour crisis care could offer patients a better option than the de facto safety net of police departments and emergency rooms.

But the two-year experiment is drawing to a close now, leaving the program with an uncertain future if Congress doesn’t extend it.

‘Medicare for all’ doesn’t just rival Canada’s system. It goes further
An insurance system proposed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal takes cues from other countries, but is unique in other ways

Supporters of “Medicare for All” often cite systems in other industrialized countries to illustrate how putting health care funding in government hands could work in the United States.

Some of the benefits are clear. Besides expanding access to health insurance, the system could eliminate many complexities for patients, doctors and hospitals.

Ebola outbreak response slowed by security fears, distrust
The current outbreak is posing problems that might not be solved by investments alone

Congress in recent years has pumped billions of dollars into health preparedness to handle infectious disease outbreaks like Ebola, but the current outbreak in an unstable part of Africa is posing problems that might not be solved by investments alone.

Top Trump administration health officials on Thursday told the Senate appropriations panel overseeing discretionary health funding that the biggest challenges to controlling the Ebola outbreak underway in the Democratic Republic of Congo are a lack of security and a lack of trust for health care workers and government within the local population.

Miners, fearing retaliation, may skip black lung screenings
The consensus among health advocates is that miners are afraid to take advantage of the program

Federal officials are examining potential barriers, such as a fear of retaliation from employers, that may explain why only about one-third of coal miners participate in a program to screen for black lung disease even as the number of workers suffering from the deadly condition is rising.

The lack of participation concerns lawmakers and the federal agency that administers the program, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The institute, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plans to issue a congressionally-mandated report on the issue by the end of March.

Senator compares drugmakers to Gollum from Lord of the Rings
As several industry executives testify, lawmakers turn up the heat

Seven drug industry executives appearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday blamed a large part of the drug price problem on the way health insurance is designed, even though lawmakers warned the industry to focus on its own actions rather than those of other companies.

“We’ve all seen the finger pointing,” said Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa. “Like most Americans, I’m sick and tired of the blame game.”