Brainstorm Health Daily: September 19, 2017

By Clifton Leaf and Sy Mukherjee
September 19, 2017

Greetings, readers! This is Sy.

The Senate GOP may be just one vote shy of passing yet another version of Obamacare repeal. The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, would fundamentally restructure not just Obamacare’s markets and mandated medical benefits, but the massive Medicaid program that serves the nation’s poor (and which was significantly expanded under the Affordable Care Act).

There’s no official Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the legislation yet and even a preliminary one won’t be available until next week. But the Senate has planned at least one hearing to debate the bill, and its sponsors are essentially arguing that a full CBO write-up won’t be necessary for Senators to make up their minds.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has a helpful comparison of what Graham-Cassidy would do relative to Obamacare. Some of the biggest changes would be to Medicaid, whose funding would be sharply rolled back under the bill and likely lead to tighter eligibility requirements, less generous benefits, or both. That would also mean expected coverage losses.

As of now, at least two GOP Senators are expected to oppose the legislation: Rand Paul of Kentucky, who doesn’t consider it a “true” Obamacare repeal, and Maine’s Susan Collins, who has been highly skeptical of Medicaid cuts. Just one more “nay” vote would kill the bill. But it’s unclear whether Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski or Arizona’s John McCain will vote, once again, to shelve a party-line health overhaul. Arizona’s governor has endorsed Graham-Cassidy while Alaska’s governor opposes it. And McCain has previously argued that wide-ranging health legislation should be done in “regular order” and through a bipartisan committee process.

Will that be enough to stop Obamacare repeal in its tracks yet again? Only time will tell.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

BERG to offer AI-driven prostate cancer test under Defense Department partnership. Biopharma and health tech firm BERG announced Tuesday that its new prostate cancer test—which the company calls the first-ever commercial health product to be developed with the help of artificial intelligence—has been clinically validated. “We are proud of the clinical validation that we have achieved resulting from our collaboration with the DoD, and we are very excited about this new diagnostic test that has the potential to enhance the current approach to prostate cancer screening and detection,” said BERG CEO Niven R. Narain in a statement. BERG combines the AI ambitions of tech startups with the structure of a pharmaceutical company housed under a single entity.


INDICATIONS

FDA approves GlaxoSmithKline’s triple lung drug combo. The Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline’s triple drug combination inhaler to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a degenerative lung condition that’s the number three killer of people worldwide. The product, Trellegy Ellipta, will the first-of-its-kind combination treatment for COPD, and may reduce some patients’ costs because they don’t have to shell out separate co-pays for three different drugs that they already use. GSK has long been looking to make up for falling sales of its lung drug blockbuster Advair amid increased competition. (Reuters)


THE BIG PICTURE

Good news for hipsters: Warby Parker is going to start accepting insurance. In an exclusive, hip eyewear startup Warby Parker tells me that it will begin accepting UnitedHealthcare vision insurance in 2018. That means the company’s frames could theoretically be purchased for as little as $30, the average co-pay for UnitedHealthcare vision plans, by about 20 million qualifying customers. (Fortune)

Walgreens finally cleared to buy nearly 2,000 Rite Aid stores. Walgreens says that it has received regulators’ blessing to buy 1,932 Rite Aid stores, more about 250 less than it had originally planned to snap up. That will significantly expand Walgreens’ already massive reach in the pharmacy chain industry. (Fortune)


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