NEW SENATOR JOINS HEALTH COMMITTEE

Newly sworn-in Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., is the newest member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Loeffler took the oath of office last week, replacing retired Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., praised Loeffler as having the background and skills to “immediately become an effective member of the committee.”

The committee’s jurisdiction includes public health, biomedical research and development including authorization and oversight of the Food and Drug Administration, aging, and individuals with disabilities.

Isakson’s departure from the Senate due to his own health difficulties leaves a significant void in healthcare policymaking. He was an accomplished legislator on a variety of health-related issues and sat at a unique intersection of health policy as a member of both the HELP and Finance committees, the two primary committees of jurisdiction on healthcare. Isakson also was the chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Although a conservative Republican, Isakson is celebrated as a gentleman of the Senate who was eager to work with his Democratic colleagues on issues where they could find mutual interest. Tyler Thompson of the BakerHostetler Federal Policy team served as Isakson’s healthcare legislative assistant for seven years.

HEALTH PANEL TO REVIEW NEW NORTH AMERICAN TRADE AGREEMENT

After the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement gained approval from the Senate Finance Committee last week, it now moves to consideration by several other committees with jurisdiction over its provisions, including the Senate HELP Committee.

One key flashpoint is sure to be intellectual property protections for complex biologic drugs. The trade deal originally provided for 10 years of market exclusivity for biologics, a longer period than either Canada or Mexico provides. But in a concession to Democrats, that provision was dropped. The biopharmaceutical industry was infuriated by the last-minute surprise, and many Republican senators were also upset by the change – but not enough to oppose the overall deal.

The United States provides 12 years of exclusivity for biologic drugs. Canada allows eight years, and Mexico five years.

The Senate Budget Committee, Environment and Public Works Committee, Commerce Committee, and Foreign Relations Committee will also review the agreement this week. Timing for consideration on the Senate floor is uncertain, but it now appears that final approval of the House-passed implementing legislation will wait until after the Senate trial on the impeachment of President Donald Trump, which could begin as soon as this week.

STATE HEALTH OFFICIALS TO TESTIFY ON OPIOIDS

A House subcommittee this week will examine state efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, including how states are using federal funds to expand evidence-based treatment and whether states have enough flexibility to respond to the ever-evolving crisis.

The Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and investigations panel will review state-based efforts to offer treatment and recovery support services. The committee last fall sent multiple letters to state leaders seeking information on how each state is addressing key aspects of the opioid crisis.

Witnesses will include top health officials from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, North Carolina, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

SENATORS LAUNCH BIPARTISAN ALS CAUCUS

Sens. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Chris Coons, D-Del., created the Senate ALS Caucus “to better advocate for ALS patients and families and find a cure for this devastating disease.”

A list of members of the caucus was not immediately available.

Caucuses allow lawmakers to join together on subjects in which they share interest, to educate their colleagues and staff and advance policy goals. They are generally more prevalent in the House, which has a caucus for everything from adult literacy to zoos and aquariums. Some are more active than others, generally driven by the motivation of caucus leaders and outside stakeholders.

“Members of this caucus will be active, focused, and determined to bring attention to ALS, support individuals with ALS and their families, and fund research that seeks to uncover new treatments and ultimately a cure,” Coons said.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the New York Yankee legend who lost his life to ALS, is a progressive nervous system disease causing the deterioration of the nerve cells controlling muscle movement. The cause of the fatal disease is unknown, and there is currently no effective treatment.