Brainstorm Health Daily: July 20, 2017

July 20, 2017, 5:45 PM UTC

Hello, readers! This is Sy.

It’s been a topsy turvy three days for health care reform (please consider hugging a health care reporter). The Senate’s original Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), which was largely considered to be dead just two days ago, has been revived and somewhat tweaked as of this morning. And the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is already out with an analysis of that new legislation: 15 million more uninsured Americans next year relative to Obamacare and 22 million more uninsured by 2026. It would also reduce federal deficits by $420 billion over the next decade, according to CBO.

The trouble is, this bill may not actually be the one that gets a vote. It lacks a controversial amendment from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that would essentially allow insurers to opt out of various Obamacare requirements (such as certain mandated health benefits and protections for people with pre-existing conditions) so long as they offer a plan that does hew to those requirements. And that amendment’s inclusion is widely expected to be included in any bill the Senate votes on, potentially making the new CBO analysis moot.

The agency likely won’t be able to score Cruz’s amendment in time for a vote that’s reportedly planned for early next week. (Arizona Sen. John McCain’s recent surgery and brain cancer diagnosis has added another potential wrinkle to the voting timeline.) But insurance companies have warned that it would lead to exorbitant premium hikes and widespread health coverage losses.

To counteract that narrative, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its own analysis of the Cruz amendment on Wednesday. Reportedly authored by consulting firm McKinsey, that report came under intense scrutiny from health care experts and analysts who questioned its methodology and transparency (and what they believe is a dubiously rosy conclusion about the amendment’s effect on premiums and health coverage).

At the end of the day, we still don’t know a whole lot about what version of Obamacare repeal will make it to the Senate floor—the original BCRA, the new modified version, the modified version alongside the Cruz amendment, “repeal-and-delay,” or something in between. Neither is it clear that any of those bills can get to 50 votes (each version has been projected to lead to anywhere between 20 million and 32 million more uninsured Americans). But one thing is for certain: The health care debate still isn’t over six months into President Trump’s term.

Read on for the day’s news.


Oscar Health teams up with insurer Humana to get into the small business market. Digital health insurance upstart Oscar Health is continuing its quest to move on beyond Obamacare's individual insurance markets. On Thursday, the company announced that it's teaming up with insurer Humana to offer commercial health insurance to small businesses in certain regions around Nashville, Tennessee. Last month, the firm filed to expand its health plan offerings to five new states as well as businesses, individuals, and families in New York.

Intel may be shutting down its wearables unit. According to CNBC, tech giant Intel has nixed the arm of the company responsible for creating wearable devices such as fitness trackers and smart watches. The wearables market has been an unstable one, with multiple companies like Fitbit facing challenges. Most recently, Jawbone began to liquidate its assets. (Fortune)


Merck's Keytruda is on the rise in the cancer market. Merck's star cancer immunotherapy drug Keytruda is starting to catch up with rival Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo in the cancer treatment market share race. In the increasingly popular immuno-oncology field (treatments that help use the body's immune system to fight cancer), Keytruda went from 28% of the market to 32% of the market over June. Bristol-Myers' market share fell from 64% to 61%—Opdivo, specifically, is down to 46% share. So what's been causing the reversal? Keytruda's major advantage over Opivo in the gigantic lung cancer market, where the drug has nabbed multiple approvals that Opdivo hasn't been able to match. (FiercePharma)

Sanofi strives to bolster immunology pipeline with Ablynx deal. French pharmaceutical giant has struck a $26.6 million upfront cash deal with European biotech Ablynx in an effort shore up its immunology and inflammatory disease treatment pipeline. This is one of the largest therapeutic spaces in the world (it includes conditions like plaque psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and Crohn's disease) and could pay off big time for Sanofi if it leads to winning drug approvals given the firm's struggles in its flagship diabetes drug portfolio. (BioPharma Dive)


Sen. John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer. 2008 Republican presidential nominee and long-serving Arizona Sen. John McCain has been diagnosed with glioblastoma, a deadly and hard-to-treat form of brain cancer. The 80-year-old Senator was diagnosed after surgery to remove a blood clot above his eye—a clot that was, apparently, linked with the senator's cancer. McCain has been sounding an upbeat note and promised to return to the Senate in short order. (Fortune)

Donald Trump thinks health insurance costs $12 per year when you're 21. President Donald Trump tells the New York Times that health insurance costs one dollar per month when you're 21. It doesn't. (Fortune)


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