Senate clears opioids, 'gag clause' legislation
The Senate passed its mega-opioids package Monday night along with another significant healthcare measure to ban insurers and pharmacy benefit managers from imposing so-called gag clauses on pharmacists.
The Senate's vote on opioids legislation follows a summer of negotiations on more than 70 bills. The ultimate package punted some of the controversial elements of the House-passed package from June—including freeing up Medicaid funds for opioid addiction treatment at large facilities and rolling back the enhanced privacy protections that bar providers from sharing a patient's addiction treatment records.
Late last week, congressional appropriators reached a bipartisan $90.5 billion HHS appropriations deal that is expected to pass this month with an included $3.8 billion in opioids funding. Along with the $4.7 billion appropriated in the March spending omnibus, Congress has approved about $8.5 billion in funds aimed at curbing the epidemic.
Senate health committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Congress is aiming to have a bicameral deal ready by the end of this week, with a financial analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. This would fast-track a vote on the final legislation before the end of the month, well in advance of November's midterm elections.
Major provisions in the Senate package include expansion of medication-assisted treatment as a way to curb opioid abuse and HHS oversight on a federal strategy to address the use of opioids by pregnant women and subsequent neonatal abstinence syndrome in infants. The legislation would fund development of non-addictive painkillers and authorize blister packs of limited three- to seven-day supplies of opioids.
The Senate also passed a bipartisan measure from Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) that will not allow insurers and pharmacy benefit managers to bar pharmacies from telling beneficiaries if their prescription drugs would cost them less out of pocket than if they used their insurance and paid the amount agreed upon by insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers .
The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a companion bill last week in committee, but it hasn't yet cleared the House floor.
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