What Happened, What You Missed: December 4-December 8, 2023

White House Proposes Using March-In Rights to Lower Drug Costs 

The Biden administration proposed guidance on Thursday outlining factors that federal agencies should consider in determining whether to use march-in rights to seize the patents of certain expensive drugs.  Codified in the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, march-in authority allows the government to take over patents for drugs developed with taxpayer funds and share them with other drug companies if the public cannot reasonably access the drug.  However, no federal agency to date has ever invoked march-in rights to break a patent over a drug’s high price.  The announcement comes as President Biden plans to make lowering drug costs a key pillar of his health care platform for his 2024 reelection campaign.   

Biden Administration Delays Ban on Menthol Cigarettes to 2024 

A ban on menthol cigarettes that was originally schedule to take effect in December 2023 won’t happen until at least March 2024, according to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  While the Biden administration has so far declined to comment on the delay, the decision is likely due to lobbying from the tobacco industry, which has been fighting a similar ban in California.  News of the delay has left anti-tobacco advocates devastated due to the public health impact of menthol cigarettes.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that a ban on menthol cigarettes could prevent 300,000 to 650,000 smoking deaths over 40 years.  Most of these preventable deaths are attributed to Black Americans, who smoke menthol cigarettes at higher rates. 

Bipartisan Senators Seek Answers on Impact of Private Equity 

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent letters on Thursday to seven companies in an effort to learn more about the impact of private equity on the health care industry.  The letters include questions on financial relationships and whether private equity companies can determine business practices like staffing ratios, billing, and key personnel decisions.   The senators’ inquiry reflects a growing scrutiny over the role of private equity in medicine, which critics say has been attributed to higher health care costs and utilization as well as lower-quality care.  However, proponents of private equity contend that these firms play an important role in the health care industry by enabling growth and increasing the market power of smaller health care entities. 

McCarthy, McHenry Announce Exits from Congress 

This week, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and former Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-NC) announced that they will not seek reelection to Congress in 2024.  The announcements cap off a chaotic year in the House, where McHenry served as acting speaker for most of October 2023 following his close ally McCarthy’s historic ouster from the speakership.  Known for his fundraising prowess, McCarthy will officially leave Congress at the end of 2023, although he has vowed to remain active in politics by working to recruit the next generation of Republican leaders.  In contrast, McHenry will stay on until his term ends in January 3, 2025, which will surely be followed by a competitive race to determine who will be the next top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee.   

ICYMI: Holiday Decorating Contest in Congress Draws Controversy 

Launched in 2019, an annual holiday decorating contest for lawmakers’ offices on Capitol Hill has been largely a friendly affair.  However, this year’s contest has ruffled a few feathers for being overly political.  Rep. Eli Crane (R-AZ) has faced criticism from Democrats for his border security-themed decorations that feature a “Border Patrol Elves Only” sign on an office door, while the office of Mike Collins (R-GA) has a cardboard cutout that references Hunter Biden’s drug use.  Fortunately, the majority of other members of Congress has taken a less political approach by choosing themes like local sports teams and Star Wars for their decorations. 

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