What We’re Reading: Pfizer Licenses COVID-19 Pill; No Surprises Act Receives Backlash; 340B Discount Refusal

Pfizer has granted a second license to allow its COVID-19 pill to be manufactured and sold in developing countries; a bipartisan group argues against the No Surprises Act; the battle over the 340B discount program continues.

Pfizer Grants License for COVID-19 Pill in Developing Countries

Pfizer announced a deal that will allow its COVID-19 pill to be manufactured and sold in 95 developing countries—most in Africa and Asia—that make up more than half of the global population, reports The New York Times. Similar to the royalty-free license Merck issued in October for molnupiravir, Pfizer’s royalty-free license was granted to the Medicines Patent Pool for Pfizer’s drug formula, which will be up for sale following authorization in the 95 countries. Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is currently available under emergency use authorization for all Americans aged 5 and 11 years and approved for Americans 12 years and older. It also has booster doses approved for adults aged 65 and older, those with certain preexisting conditions, and persons with occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

Congress Members Submit Letter Against No Surprises Act

A bipartisan group of 152 lawmakers has submitted a letter to the Biden administration arguing against the attempt to regulate the No Surprises Act, which Congress passed in December 2020 as pushback against large, unexpected medical bills for out-of-network treatment, Kaiser Health News reports. However, doctors, medical institutions, and members of Congress are now arguing against the rule, which is set to take effect in January 2022. This new policy would effectively take patients out of conversations between providers and insurers regarding the unexpected bills and instate a 30-day negotiation period followed by arbitration if an agreement is not reached. Those against the act say it favors insurers and direction from the Biden administration on how to implement the law ignores the spirit of the legislation.

340B Program at Center of Contentious Debate on Its Benefits

There is seemingly no end in sight to the battle over benefits and drawbacks of the 340B drug discount program, first created by Congress in 1992, according to Kaiser Health News. While the discounts provided through the program are meant to help hospitals reach more patients and provide better care—particularly to underserved and uninsured patients and those with Medicaid and Medicare Part B coverage—several manufacturers argue that the program has instead been abused by for-profits institutions and wealthier hospitals. Patients, meanwhile, may be left behind, with those same manufacturers refusing to honor the discounts 340B promises.