Hundreds of 1199SEIU health workers staged a rally and sit-in on a block of 3rd avenue, where some were arrested. They were protesting health care cuts in Gov. Kathy Hochuls’ Medicare budget.

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Medicare said Friday it will allow drug companies to publicly discuss historic drug price negotiations under the program, dropping a confidentiality requirement that the industry argued violates the First Amendment in lawsuits filed this month.

In initial guidance released in March, Medicare barred the industry from disclosing information about the lower price originally offered by the federal government for drugs targeted by the program, as well as the government’s reasons for choosing that price point.

Medicare also prohibited the companies from releasing any verbal conversations during the negotiation period. The companies were also required to destroy all information within 30 days if the drug was no longer selected for negotiation.

In revised guidelines released Friday, Medicare said the company “may choose to disclose information regarding pending negotiations at its discretion.”

The Inflation Reduction Act, passed last year, empowered Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies on prices for the first time. The program is a central pillar of the Biden administration’s efforts to control rising drug prices in the US

MerckUS Chamber of Commerce, Bristol Myers Squibb and the industry lobby group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America this month asked federal courts to declare drug price negotiations unconstitutional.

Merck, the chamber and Bristol Myers Squibb argued in their lawsuits that Medicare imposed a gag order that effectively barred companies from publicly disagreeing with the federal government’s position in violation of the First Amendment.

But the industry’s lawsuits also focus on broader claims that the program violates due process and the seizure of private property without just compensation under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Health and Human Services Minister Xavier Becerra vowed on Friday to continue negotiations despite lawsuits from the pharmaceutical industry.

“Pharmaceutical companies have been making record profits for decades,” Becerra said in a statement. “They are now lining up to block this administration’s work to negotiate better drug prices for our families.

“We will not be deterred,” Becerra said

HHS will release a list of 10 high-cost drugs selected for negotiation by September. The companies must decide next month whether to participate in the negotiations.

Drug manufacturers who choose not to participate face heavy financial penalties. They can avoid these penalties by ending their participation in the Medicare and Medicaid rebate programs.

The companies argued that withdrawing from the rebate programs was not a feasible alternative because the programs account for nearly half of the nation’s annual prescription drug spending.

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