Health Highlights: Sept. 19, 2019

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Nancy Pelosi Unveils Plan to Lower Drug Costs

House speaker Nancy Pelosi revealed a plan to lower the cost of medications for people on Medicare and those with private insurance.

Under her plan, Medicare could bargain with drug companies to get the best prices on 250 expensive drugs, including insulin. Companies that won't negotiate could face heavy penalties, the Associated Press reported.

Also, companies that raise costs above inflation would have to rebate Medicare, and copays under Part D would be limited to $2,000.

The reduced prices given to Medicare would also be available to private insurers as well, the AP says.

The plan will test the Democrats' ability to get a bill passed this year. If not, it will only be considered after next year's election.

There's chance of passage this year -- according to the AP, Pelosi' plan should appeal to the Democrat-run house and at least some Republicans in the senate.

Most Americans think reducing drug prices should be a high priority for Congress.

A poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than 70% of Americans consider cutting drug prices a top priority, according to the AP.

President Trump seems eager to sign a bill that reduces drug costs. Most Republicans, however, are against allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Under the law, Medicare is currently barred from bargaining with drug companies.

Drug companies have been fighting tooth and nail to keep the law as it stands.

Under Pelosi's plan:

  • Medicare could negotiate prices for high-cost drugs, including drugs covered by "Part D" and "Part B," such as cancer drugs. Companies refusing a deal would trigger penalties starting at 65% of sales.
  • Drugmakers would have pay rebates to Medicare if they raise prices beyond inflation.
  • Out-of-pocket costs to Medicare recipients would be limited to $2,000 a year. Currently, Medicare has no limit on copays.

Pelosi plans to have the legislation move through committees and voted on by the full House. Then it would be sent to the Senate if a compromise can be reached among House Democrats, the White House and senators in time to have it added to year-end budget legislation, the AP reported.

Debate over high drug costs has caused an unusual drop in prices for generic drugs over the past eight months, according to the Commerce Department's inflation index.

The AP's own analysis, however, shows that prices for brand name drugs are still rising although at a slower clip.

In the first seven months of this year prices for brand name drugs rose a median 5%. Before that prices were rising 10%. Yet, for every drug whose price was lowered, 37 drugs saw price increases in 2019, the AP found.

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More U.S. Teens Vaping Nicotine

Among high school seniors across America about 25% are vaping nicotine e-cigarettes this year, a jump from 21% last year, the Associated Press reports.

For the report, the University of Michigan researchers surveyed more than 42,000 kids in grades 8, 10 and 12.

Researchers also found that fewer high school seniors were smoking regular cigarettes, a drop from 8% to 6%.

No data were available on how many students are vaping marijuana, the AP said.

The study was published online Sept. 18 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The same trends were reported in a government survey last week.

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Media Giants Pull E-Cigarette Ads

CBS, WarnerMedia and Viacom have banned ads for e-cigarettes. The ban comes after a spate of vaping-related lung infections and seven deaths.

CBS said it will not advertise e-cigarettes on the network, and WarnerMedia is canning e-cigarette ads from TNT and TBS. Both channels have recently aired ads for Juul, NBC News reported.

Viacom, which has also run ads for Juul on on BET, CMT, TV Land and Paramount, is pulling them immediately.

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