The vote may have been delayed a week by the snow, but the House made good this week on its promise to attempt to override President Obama’s veto of the reconciliation package to repeal major components of the ACA. On Tuesday, the House voted 241-186 in an attempt to override the president’s veto. This vote picked up one more “aye” from their vote on January 6 from Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA-49) who missed the January vote, but still fell far short of the 290 votes necessary to move it to the next step. Had the House vote succeeded, it would have been doomed to fail in the Senate, as 67 votes would have been needed to override the veto, and given that the Senate rounded up just 52 ayes on their vote in December, it simply wasn’t going to happen this go-around. The final nail has finally been pounded into the reconciliation coffin of 2016, but we expect Republicans to use this as a major campaign issue this year as they signal that a Democratic president is the only obstacle preventing a complete repeal of the law, and Democrats to make the counter argument.
The other major headline in Congress this week was the hearing in the House Oversight Committee yesterday. Former Turning CEO Martin Shkreli was called to testify on his former company’s price hikes of the prescription drug Daraprim last fall from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill. Despite the best efforts of Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, and Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Shkreli refused to answer any questions with the exception of confirming his name, and instead responded to every question with, “On the advice of council, I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question.” When prodded by Gowdy he said, “I intend to follow the advice of my counsel, not yours.” After confirming with Shkreli that he didn’t intend to answer any questions, Chaffetz dismissed Shkreli from the hearing.
The remainder of the hearing split between the roles of the Food and Drug Administration and the pharmaceutical industry, with Republicans charging the FDA for not moving fast enough on generic drugs and Democrats blasting the pharmaceutical companies for exploitative pricing. Valeant Pharmaceuticals noted that it intends to take a more moderate approach to prescription drug pricing, saying that “After years of rapid growth, which included significant price increases, we will no longer rely on such significant increases in prices.” Turning’s Chief Commercial Officer Nancy Retzlaff faced heavy scrutiny for the company’s decision to hike Daraprim, responding that the drug was underpriced and that the company was losing money because of it. Chaffetz balked at this during the hearing and accused the company of providing inaccurate testimony based on their financial documents, telling Retzlaff, “If you're going to continue to lie to the American people, Congress is going to probe.” Suffice to say, the debate over pharmaceutical pricing and its role in cost containment of healthcare is far from being over.