Healthcare Roundup—$1B awarded for grants to respond to opioid crisis; Senate bill would speed generics to market, CBO says

HHS awards $1B in grants to combat opioid crisis 

On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced more than $1 billion in grants aimed at addressing the opioid crisis. 

In particular, officials said, the groups receiving the grants are addressing focus areas of the Department of Health and Human Services' 5-Point Opioid Strategy, which was launched last year. 

"This week, HHS updated its strategic framework for tackling the opioid crisis, which uses science as a foundation for our comprehensive strategy," said Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary for health and senior advisor for opioid policy, in a statement. "With these new funds, states, tribes, and communities across America will be able to advance our strategy and continue making progress against this crisis." (Release)

Opioid crisis takes center stage in political races

The opioid crisis has become a particularly important issue in the midterm elections, the Wall Street Journal reported

An analysis from the news organization found that in 2018, ads containing opioid messaging have aired in congressional and gubernatorial races more than 50,000 times across 25 states. At this point in 2014, there had been only one political TV ad touching on the topic that aired 70 times. (Wall Street Journal

Senate bill would result in $3.3B savings on drugs

Generic drugs would make it to market faster and save an estimated $3.3 billion between 2019 and 2028 under a measure awaiting a vote in the Senate, according to a new Congressional Budget Office analysis.

"Because of the earlier entry of lower-priced generic drugs, CBO estimates, enacting the legislation would reduce federal spending on prescription drugs," the report says.

Reported by the Washington Examiner, that legislation, known as the CREATES Act, has passed the Senate Judiciary committee but is awaiting a vote on the floor. The report also said the legislation would increase revenues by about $600 million and reduce unified budget deficits by $3.9 billion by 2028. (Washington Examiner)

Hospitals manipulate contracts to rake in profits 

Hospital systems are driving up healthcare costs by designing restrictive contracts with insurers, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

Large hospital groups, such as NewYork-Presbyterian, Johns Hopkins Medicine, OhioHealth and Aurora Health Care, force insurers to include them in every plan while restricting the insurers from covering other, often less-expensive providers. The contracts also allow them to avoid disclosing prices, limit claim audits and tack on additional fees. 

Services like echocardiograms, endoscopies and ultrasounds cost considerably more when performed in an outpatient facility rather than a physician’s office. Nerve and muscle tests cost 343% more. But in areas where only one hospital system exists, or one hospital system is the dominant provider, insurers feel they have no choice but to include them in their networks. 

This problem could get worse as hospitals continue to consolidate. (Wall Street Journal article