January 2, 2019

On Tuesday, more than three dozen pharmaceutical companies raised prices on hundreds of drugs in the U.S., and Allergan led the way, raising prices on 27 medicines by just under 10 percent, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing an analysis from Rx Savings Solutions. The average increase in drug list prices was 6.3 percent, and both brand-name drugmakers like Allergan and generics makers like Hikma Pharmaceuticals raised prices well above inflation. Allergan raised prices on about half its drugs, including the Alzheimer's medication Namenda, and Hikma increased prices for morphine, the anesthetic ketamine, and enalaprilat, a drug-pressure drug, the Journal notes.

There is increasing political pressure to tamp down pharmaceutical price hikes, but "the reason it can keep happening is there is no market check, no person or entity to bring reason to determining drug prices," said Michael Rea, CEO of Rx Savings Solutions, which sells software to companies and health plans to help them find the cheapest medicines.

House Democrats are expected to put pressure on drugmakers this year, and the Trump administration has proposed making pharmaceutical companies state their list prices in TV ads. Pfizer announced that it was freezing drug price increases over the summer in response to pressure from the Trump administration, but it will go back to raising prices on 41 of its drugs later this month, the Journal notes. Peter Weber

December 31, 2018

In a late-Friday ruling on Dec. 14, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor in Fort Worth ruled that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, siding with a group of Republican state attorneys general. On Sunday, O'Connor wrote that he stands by his decision that ObamaCare must be ended nationwide because of the zeroed-out individual mandate, but he is staying his ruling because "many everyday Americans would ... face great uncertainty" if it went into effect before appellate courts and possibly the Supreme Court weighed in. Most legal scholars expect O'Connor's ruling to be overturned, though he does have his boosters, too. Peter Weber

December 11, 2018

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 87 to 13 to approve a farm bill that will cost $867 billion over 10 years, legalize the production of hemp, expands farm subsidies to the extended family of farmers, permanently funds farmers markets and farmer-training programs, and doesn't add work requirements to receive food stamps, as House Republicans had wanted. The bill has the backing of President Trump, and it's expected to pass the House in the next week. The legislation will give a boost to farmers harmed by Trump's trade wars, especially with China.

Some Senate Republicans opposed the farm bill because of the extension of some agriculture subsidies to the nieces, nephews, and cousins of farmers, even those who don't work directly on the farm. House Republicans championed this measure, arguing it would encourage more people to become involved in farming. Peter Weber

December 10, 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron will make his first public comments on a month of "yellow vest" protests in Paris and other cities in a nationally televised address Monday night. The protests started in opposition to a fuel tax Macron's government had scheduled, but they've since transformed into a movement mobilized against his economic policies, many viewed as tilted toward the wealthy. Macron's decision to scrap the fuel tax did not dampen a fourth weekend protest on Saturday, where about 1,000 of the 136,000 yellow vest protesters were arrested and 71 people injured in Paris. Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Sunday that Macron "will know how to find the path to the hearts of the French," but there is no "magic wand" to resolve the growing list of yellow vest demands. Peter Weber

December 10, 2018

Lawmakers are considering a wide range of legislation in the final days of the current Congress, but the only bills they need to pass are the seven remaining spending measures to keep the federal government running past a current deadline of Dec. 21. The most contentious of the remaining spending bills is for the Department of Homeland Security, with President Trump demanding $5 billion for his proposed border wall and Democrats saying no. Trump is set to meet with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — likely the incoming House speaker — and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday to discuss the impasse. Democrats say that, based on Trump's past reneging on legislative deals, they have low expectations for the talks. Peter Weber

October 5, 2018

French police have opened an investigation into the whereabouts of Meng Hongwei, the head of the international police agency Interpol, after his wife reported him missing Friday during a trip to China. Meng, 64, traveled to his home country on Sept. 29, and his wife told French police at Interpol's Lyon headquarters she hasn't heard from his since. He was elected president of Interpol in November 2016 and his term runs until 2020. Meng has held several positions in China, including vice minister of public security and director of anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism offices. Interpol's main purpose is to give police forces in different countries a way to alert their peers about wanted suspects. Peter Weber

October 2, 2018

On Monday, the Trump administration started denying diplomatic visas to non-married domestic partners of gay foreign diplomats and United Nations employees. Foreign diplomats and U.N. employees already in the U.S. must get married by Dec. 31 or their partners will be forced to leave the country within 30 days. The policy change, announced in July, was portrayed by the U.S. Mission to the United Nations as a step forward for equality, noting that "same-sex spouses of U.S. diplomats now enjoy the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex spouses."

In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opted to grant visas to domestic partners of gay U.S. and foreign diplomats, but not heterosexual domestic partners. After the landmark 2015 Supreme Court case recognizing a national right to same-sex marriage, the U.S. started issuing diplomatic visas only to married spouses of U.S. diplomats, regardless of sexual orientation. This new policy brings the visa rules for foreign diplomats in line with the U.S. rules for U.S. diplomats.

The problem, as former U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power noted on Twitter, is that "only 12 percent of U.N. member states allow same-sex marriage." And diplomats from the other 88 percent of nations won't be able to bring their partners to the U.S. or, if they get married in the U.S., could face prosecution upon returning home. "With this change, the State Department is enforcing parity in the way they recognize opposite-sex partnerships and same-sex partnerships," said U.N. Globe, an LGBT advocacy group for U.N. staff. "It is an unfortunate change in rules, since same-sex couples, unlike opposite-sex couples, have limited choices when it comes to marriage." Peter Weber

September 24, 2018

The Indian Ocean island nation the Maldives held a national election on Sunday, and in an upset, opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih beat incumbent President Abdulla Yameen, 134,616 votes to 96,132, according to provisional results. Yameen, accused of increasing authoritarianism, conceded, saying: "The Maldivian people have decided what they want. I have accepted the results." The election had pitted not only Yameen against Solih, but also China against India. Yameen had accepted economic aid and investment from Beijing and moved the Maldives closer to China; Solih, known as Abu, is expected to bring the nation back into India's orbit.

Solih led a coalition including his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the Jumhooree Party, and the Adhaalath Party, running on a platform of democratic reform. "The message is loud and clear," he said after the results came in. "The people of Maldives want change, peace, and justice." Yameen, who has sharply cracked down on dissent in recent months, is the half-brother of former longtime autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was jailed in June. The Maldives, made up of 1,192 islands and 26 coral atolls, is one of the countries most at risk from rising sea levels tied to climate change. Peter Weber

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