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March 13, 2018

You might be paying more in co-pays than your medication actually costs.

In a new study published Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA, researchers found that out of the 9.5 million claims for prescription medication in 2013, insurance companies charged more than the base price for the drug in 2.2 million cases. Patients were overcharged for generic drugs 28 percent of the time, the study found, and for brand name drugs 6 percent of the time — for a grand total of $135 million in overpayments.

The average overpayment was only about $7.69, and only 17 percent of overpayments were for more than $10. But the extra charges are still harmful, particularly on "patients who struggle to afford their prescription drugs" in the first place, Karen Van Nuys, the lead author of the study, told Reuters.

The researchers also found that some pharmacists were barred from volunteering this price difference to patients by "gag clauses," Reuters reported. Though these contracts are outlawed in several states, the responsibility may still fall on patients to make sure they're getting the best price for their medication, as pharmacists can reveal any discrepancies if patients ask about pricing first. Read more about the study at Reuters. Shivani Ishwar

10:33 a.m.

The Senate voted 82-12 Monday to close debate on the First Step Act and bring the legislation to a final vote in the upper chamber as soon as Tuesday. The House has already passed a different version of the bill and would have to vote again on this version before it could be sent President Trump, who has said he will sign it.

The First Step Act's main concern is sentencing reform, giving judges greater discretion in sentencing for some future convictions. It also makes retroactive a prior sentencing reform law and slightly expands the circumstances under which inmates can earn earlier transfer to pre-release custody. If passed, First Step will only apply to the federal prison system, which means about nine in 10 of America's 2.1 million inmates won't be affected.

Support for ending debate does not necessarily translate to support for the bill itself. Most Democrats are expected to vote yes, though some have criticized First Step for being too cautious a reform.

Some Republicans, meanwhile, have argued it is too lenient. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has penned a series of op-eds opposing the legislation and, with Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), will introduce amendments limiting the convictions eligible for early release and requiring public reports about those released. First Step supporters believe the amendments are a "poison pill" intended to divide the bipartisan coalition backing the bill.

"The amendments [Cotton] will propose tomorrow, the senator from Arkansas, have been opposed by groups across the board, left and right, conservative, progressive, Republican, Democrat — they all oppose his amendments," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "If he goes with the amendments we've seen, we're going to have to do our best to oppose him."

Bonnie Kristian

10:14 a.m.

One Republican lawmaker is calling President Trump's farm aid just another bailout that his party should not embrace.

Trump on Monday said he would be authorizing a second round of relief for farmers who have been hurt amid the ongoing trade war with China, reports Politico. In response, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said on Twitter he doesn't understand why his fellow Republicans are supporting this because his party "used to oppose bailouts." Many Republican lawmakers criticized bailouts for the auto industry in 2008, but few have publicly criticized Trump's farm plan. Now, Amash said, the GOP simply calls them "market facilitation payments."

Amash went on to say that Trump's "big-government trade policy" has hurt farmers and ranchers, and now, he's "responding with even bigger government."

With this second round of spending, Trump will have spent $9.6 billion on relief for farmers, per The Washington Post. Brendan Morrow

10:00 a.m.

Presidential historian Jon Meacham says former President Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal looks a bit like what's happening today.

Meacham, who has written biographies on Thomas Jefferson and eulogized former President George H. W. Bush earlier this month, brought some historical context to MSNBC's Morning Joe Tuesday morning. He described how Nixon's downfall coincided with an ongoing investigation and falling markets — much like what President Trump is seeing right now.

In the two-year fallout after 1972's Watergate break-in, Nixon started out claiming he was "not a crook" — something that "would've fit on Twitter," Meacham noted. From there, the economy began "souring," Meacham said, suggesting the markets could be a "barometer of what's going to happen to President Trump."

Then, Meacham brought the conversation into the present day by discussing Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump. "If in fact Donald Trump knew about" these efforts, that raises the "live question" of whether these actions fit "the definition of treason in the Constitution," Meacham explained. It all makes for an "existential Constitutional crisis" in which a president could be an "agent of a foreign power," Meacham added.

Watch all of Meacham's conversation with MSNBC's Joe Scarborough below. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:29 a.m.

Actor Alfonso Ribeiro found it unusual to see his signature dance move show up in two video games, so he's taking the developers to court.

Ribeiro is suing the creators of Fortnite and the NBA 2K games for using the famous "Carlton dance" he popularized on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air without his permission, reports CNN. Players of both games can purchase downloadable content to have their character perform the dance that was Ribeiro's signature on the 1990s sitcom.

Ribeiro says that Epic Games and Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. have "unfairly profited" from his likeness and that the dance is "inextricably linked" with him. He's seeking to have it removed from the games and to receive a "fair and reasonable share of profits," per Variety. He is also hoping to get the dance copyrighted. Although the move isn't named the "Carlton dance" in the games, it's listed in Fortnite as "Fresh" and in the NBA games as "So Fresh."

The Fresh Prince star isn't alone, as CBS News reports the creators of Fortnite are also being sued by Russell Horning, an Instagram star known as "Backpack Kid," and rapper 2 Milly, both of whom say dance moves they created were added to the game without their permission. Brendan Morrow

8:26 a.m.

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn heads to court on Tuesday with best wishes from President Trump.

Ahead of Flynn's sentencing for lying to the FBI, Trump wrote on Twitter, "Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn." Trump added that it will be "interesting to see what he has to say" about Russian collusion and "our great and, obviously, highly successful political campaign." He also contended that Flynn has had "tremendous pressure" put on him.

Flynn last year pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016. His lawyers have recently put forth the argument that he was not given adequate warning about the consequences of lying during his FBI interview, while prosecutors have responded that lying to the FBI is not something Flynn should need to be warned not to do, per The Associated Press. Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Monday released notes from Flynn's FBI interview showing that he made false statements about his conversations with Kislyak.

Mueller has recommended a light sentence for Flynn due to his cooperation, and according to CNN, he may walk away with no jail time at all. Brendan Morrow

8:19 a.m.

How does President Trump plan on avoiding a partial government shutdown this Friday? Your guess, it seems, is as good as the rest of the GOP's.

Republican lawmakers are "in the dark" with three days left to go before the government would partially shut down if the president and Democratic leaders cannot agree on new funding, per The Washington Post. "If there is a plan ... I'm not aware of it," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Monday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Republicans that "we're waiting for" the White House.

But Republicans are "concerned" about this apparent "lack of strategy," CNN reports. "If the White House has a plan, they're keeping it to themselves," Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) noted.

The Washington Post reports the White House's legislative affairs team has come up with a plan to avoid a shutdown. It's unclear what this might be, but CNN notes that Trump seems to think he can "exert maximum pressure on Democrats" and compel them to agree to the $5 billion he has demanded for border wall funding; Democrats have said they will not agree to more than $1.6 billion for border security.

Republicans fear they would suffer the political consequences if a shutdown happens, especially after Trump explicitly stated in a meeting last week he'd be "proud" to see it happen and would "take the blame." Brendan Morrow

1:30 a.m.

When visiting the toy factory run by Tiny Tim's Foundation for Kids, you can leave your wallet at home.

The West Jordan, Utah, toy factory makes small wooden cars, but doesn't charge a penny for them. In 2002, retired barber Alton Thacker and his wife, Cheryl Thacker, decided to open the factory after making several trips to small villages in Mexico to donate eyeglasses and medical equipment. Together, they saw "the important role toys played in helping little minds to grow," Alton Thacker told The Washington Post.

The toy cars are distributed free of charges to charities, churches, shelters, and children's hospitals, with some being delivered to kids as far away as Iraq, Russia, Brazil, and Ghana. More than 30 people regularly volunteer to carve and sand the wooden cars, with inmates at the Central Utah Correctional Facility painting them. Because lumber yards and cabinetmakers donate the wood, it only costs around $2 to build each car, and in 2018, the factory's one millionth wooden toy was made. "We have a small army of volunteers who want to get every one of our cars into the hands of a child," Thacker said. Catherine Garcia

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