- KFF Health News Original Stories 4
- Medicare’s Drug-Pricing Experiment Stirs Opposition
- FDA Considering Pricey Implant As Treatment For Opioid Addiction
- CVS MinuteClinics: A Cure For Long Wait Times At Veterans Affairs?
- Mosquito Hunters Set Traps Across Houston, Search For Signs Of Zika
- Political Cartoon: 'Long Winded'
- Capitol Watch 2
- House Easily Passes Bill To Protect Americans From Harmful Chemicals
- Bipartisan Fears Lurk Beneath Surface Of Zika Funding Debate
- Marketplace 2
- Average Family's Health Care Costs Surpass $25,000, Report Finds
- Anthem CEO: Despite 'Dynamic Tension' With Cigna, $48M Merger Deal On Track
- Health IT 1
- Hospitals 'Freaking Out' About Constant Cyberattacks; Congress Has No Clear Plan To Address Threat
- Veterans' Health Care 1
- VA Chief 'Deeply Regrets' Comments Comparing Clinic Wait Times To Disneyland Lines
- Women’s Health 1
- Texas Women Turning To Do-It-Yourself Abortions: 'It Was Like We Were Back In The Days Of The Wild West'
- Public Health 4
- FDA To Decide On Implant Heralded As New Weapon Against Opioid Addiction, But Critics Are Balking At Price
- Health Groups Recommend Obesity Surgery As Treatment For Diabetes
- 'You’re Going To Start The Zombie Apocalypse': Project To ‘Reanimate’ The Brain Dead Provokes Fear, Hope
- More Men With Early Prostate Cancer Choosing 'Active Surveillance' Over Surgery, Radiation
- State Watch 3
- Kansas Medicaid Proposal To Designate Preferred Providers Brings Complaints
- Washington, California Sue J&J In Latest Legal Action Against Vaginal Mesh Implants
- State Highlights: States Push To Curb Vaccination Exemptions; In N.C., Mental Health Patients Still Face Long Waits For Care
- Prescription Drug Watch 3
- The Next Valeant?
- Big Pharma Reaps Rewards As Mainstream Medicine Embraces New, Expanded Conditions
- Perspectives On Drug Costs: Increased Prices Jeopardize Shift To Fee-For-Value System
From KFF Health News - Latest Stories:
A proposal to change the way Medicare pays for some drugs has set off intense reaction and lobbying — all tied to a common theme: How far should the government go in setting prices for prescription drugs? (Julie Appleby, )
The FDA could soon approve an implantable form of a drug used to treat opioid addiction. While the approach helped patients avoid relapse in tests, its price may be prohibitive for some, doctors say. (Martha Bebinger, WBUR, )
The experiment in private partnership begins in Palo Alto, Calif. (Barbara Feder Ostrov, )
Harris County, Texas, operates one of the largest mosquito control operations in the country, with more than 50 people who trap, freeze and test mosquitoes for threats such as Zika. (Carrie Feibel, Houston Public Media, )
KFF Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Long Winded'" by Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch.
Here's today's health policy haiku:
... JOIN 'EM
All bad Republicans say.
If you can't beat them ...
- James Richardson, MD
If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if we can include your name. Haikus follow the format of 5-7-5 syllables. We give extra brownie points if you link back to an original story.
Opinions expressed in haikus and cartoons are solely the author's and do not reflect the opinions of KFF Health News or KFF.
Summaries Of The News:
The bill is the first significant update to chemical safety laws since the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. Both the Senate and President Barack Obama are expected to approve the sweeping regulations.
The Associated Press:
House Approves Bill To Regulate Toxic Chemicals
The House on Tuesday easily approved a bipartisan bill that would for the first time regulate tens of thousands of toxic chemicals in everyday products from household cleaners to clothing and furniture. Supporters said the bill would clear up a hodgepodge of state rules and update and improve a toxic-chemicals law that has remained unchanged for 40 years. (Daly, 5/24)
The Wall Street Journal:
House Passes Sweeping Chemical Safety Bill
The bill, the first significant update to federal chemicals safety law in 40 years, is expected to be passed by the Senate as soon as this week and signed into law by President Barack Obama. It passed 403 to 12. It gives the Environmental Protection Agency authority to evaluate and impose restrictions on chemicals used in everything from dry-cleaning to grease removal to paint thinners. In most cases, that authority pre-empts states from passing laws to regulate a chemical while the EPA is making its determination. (Berzon and Harder, 5/24)
The New York Times:
House Set To Subject 64,000 Household Chemicals To Regulation
Public health advocates and environmentalists have complained for decades that the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act is outdated and riddled with gaps that leave Americans exposed to harmful chemicals. Under current law, around 64,000 chemicals are not subject to environmental testing or regulation. Efforts to tighten the law have stalled for years, in part because of opposition from the chemical industry. The bipartisan authors of the bill say their breakthrough represents a pragmatic, politically viable compromise between better environmental standards and the demands of industry. In particular, Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, worked closely with the American Chemistry Council to come up with language that would win the support of the industry and pass through the generally regulation-averse Republican Congress. (Davenport, 5/24)
Politics are adding a layer of complexity to efforts to battle the outbreak. Among other issues, Republicans are worried about the perception of supporting abortion or contraception, while Democrats are concerned about the environmental impact of pesticides. However, public officials say, mosquitoes don't pay attention to party lines.
The New York Times:
Political Battles Color Congressional Feud Over Zika Funding
The feud on Capitol Hill over responding to the rapidly spreading Zika virus would seem to be largely a fight over how much money is needed to fight the mosquito-borne scourge. But lurking just beneath the surface are issues that have long stirred partisan mistrust, including Republicans’ fears about the use of taxpayer money for abortion and possible increased use of contraception, and Democratic worries about protecting the environment from potentially dangerous pesticides. Public health officials warn that the virus will not stop to check party affiliation — the mosquitoes that carry it bite Republicans and Democrats alike. (Herszenhorn, 5/24)
House Votes To Loosen EPA Pesticide Rules To Fight Zika
The House voted along party lines Tuesday to approve a bill that would loosen pesticide regulations in the name of fighting the Zika virus. Democrats almost unanimously opposed the bill, which was recently retooled by House GOP leaders as an effort to prevent the spread of Zika. The final tally was 258-156, with all but 23 Democrats opposed to the bill. (Ferris, 5/24)
What’s Behind Biting Political Fight In Congress Over Zika Funding?
In February, the White House issued a $1.9 billion plan for combating Zika virus in the U.S., including provisions for mosquito control, education and research into a vaccine. While GOP lawmakers opposed that plan, the Senate passed a bipartisan $1.1 billion compromise bill last week. (5/24)
Meanwhile, the FTC is issuing warnings for consumers over products marketed to protect against Zika, and officials in Texas take mosquito trapping very seriously —
The Washington Post:
FTC: Beware Of Companies Peddling Products To Protect Against Zika Mosquitos
That mint oil Mosquito Shield wristband you picked up last week to protect against Zika as mosquito season rolls into the United States? It's not going to cut it. The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday issued a strong warning to consumers that some companies may be trying to unscrupulously capitalize on fears about the virus. The FTC announcement focused specifically on on Viatek Consumer Products Group's Mosquito Shield Band, which is sold in stores and on the Home Shopping Network. (Cha, 5/24)
Kaiser Health News:
Mosquito Hunters Set Traps Across Houston, Search For Signs Of Zika
Mosquito control is serious business in Harris County, Texas. The county, which includes Houston, stretches across 1,777 square miles and is the third most populous county in the U.S. The area's warm, muggy climate and snaking system of bayous provide an ideal habitat for mosquitoes — and the diseases they carry. The county began battling mosquitoes in earnest in 1965, after an outbreak of St. Louis encephalitis. Hundreds of people contracted the virus and 32 died. (Feibel, 5/24)
A Commonwealth report finds that 60 percent of people who got coverage through the health law's marketplaces or expanded Medicaid could not find insurance before. At the same time, reports from the consulting firm Avalere and from the Urban Institute point out geographic variations in premium costs.
Los Angeles Times:
Obamacare Is Helping Millions Get Needed Healthcare, New Survey Finds
More than 60% of working-age Americans who signed up for Medicaid or a private health plan through the Affordable Care Act are getting healthcare they couldn’t previously get, a new nationwide survey indicates. And consumers are broadly satisfied with the new coverage, despite some cost challenges and an ongoing Republican campaign to discredit the law. Overall, 82% of American adults enrolled in private or government coverage through the health law said they were “somewhat” or “very” satisfied, according to the report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund. (Levey, 5/24)
Price Increases For Obamacare Depend On Where You Live
Two studies released Tuesday show wide geographic variation in Obamacare price increases seen this year, and in those proposed for next year. Although there are plenty of double-digit prices being proposed, that isn't the case everywhere. The studies underscore that the amount people pay for their Obamacare plans is often strongly related to where they live. They also show how much lower the price increases can be for a customer who switches plans within the same Obamacare "tier." (Mangan, 5/24)
Analysis Finds 2017 Premiums Rising, But Varies By State
Health insurance premiums are expected to rise for 2017, but by how much will vary by geographic area, an early analysis from Avalere Health finds. Premium rate requests were due to state insurance agencies earlier this month, and complete data is available in nine states so far, on which Avalere based their analysis — the first summary of the 2017 proposed rates. Proposed rates increased across all silver plans, but ranged from a 5 percent increase in Washington to a 44 percent increase in Vermont, the report says. (McIntire, 5/24)
Competition In Florida Helps Keep Obamacare Rates In Check, Study Says
Competition among health insurance companies requesting to sell plans on the Affordable Care Act exchange in Florida next year should help keep premiums in check for consumers despite an early estimate by state regulators of an average double digit increase, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the nonprofit Urban Institute and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (Chang, 5/24)
The costs are triple what a family paid in 2001.
Average Family Healthcare Costs Have Tripled Since 2001
The costs of providing health care to an average American family surpassed $25,000 for the first time in 2016 — even as the rate of health cost increases slowed to a record low, a new analysis revealed Tuesday. (Mangan, 5/24)
Kansas Health Institute:
Survey: Health Care Costs Are Bigger Concern For Kansans
NPR, Harvard University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation partnered to survey Americans last year about their perceptions of health care. Kansas was one of seven states — Florida, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin were the others — singled out for a closer look. And the thing that stood out about Kansans was the degree of concern they expressed about the cost of health care. (Thompson, 5/25)
CEO Joseph R. Swedish said the two insurers have resolved differences and are moving forward to receive regulatory approval. Still, investors are definitely watching.
The Wall Street Journal:
Anthem CEO Says Cigna Deal Moving Forward
Anthem Inc. Chief Executive Joseph R. Swedish acknowledged “dynamic tension” with Cigna Corp. over their $48 billion pending merger, but said the health insurers had resolved differences and are on track to receive regulatory approval. The Wall Street Journal had reported that Anthem and Cigna were privately sparring on several fronts as they work toward antitrust clearance, citing letters their executives exchanged as recently as this month. Speaking at an investor conference in New York, Mr. Swedish called the disputes “old news.” He said the companies are working well together and have “virtually met all the deadlines up to this point” in the antitrust review by the Justice Department. (Hoffman and Wilde Mathews, 5/24)
The Wall Street Journal:
Anthem And Cigna: What Worried Investors Have To Hear
Companies tend to break a few eggs when making a deal omelet, so investors probably shouldn’t fret too much about squabbling between Anthem and Cigna. It is the regulatory cook in the kitchen that is the bigger issue. Anthem and Cigna have bickered about a number of issues since agreeing to a deal last summer, raising fears the acquisition won’t close, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. Anthem told investors Tuesday that isn’t likely to scuttle the deal, which it still expects will close sometime this year. (5/24)
The targets of attack within health care are practically limitless, but many systems can't afford the technology to protect against them. And Congress seems to be in no mood to cough up the money it would take to fund the security efforts.
Cyber Ransom Attacks Panic Hospitals, Alarm Congress
When the Obama administration pushed out a $35 billion incentive program to pay doctors and hospitals to convert to electronic records, the idea was to modernize the health care industry, not serve it up on a platter to cyber criminals. But now, American hospitals face weekly ransom threats. If they don’t pay up, files get frozen, surgeries delayed and patients sent across town. One of these days, someone could die as a result. And no one in government has a clear plan to handle it. (Allen, 5/25)
In other health IT news —
The Washington Post:
Your Fitness Tracker May Be Accurately Tracking Steps, But Miscounting Calories
Your fitness tracker may be accurately counting your steps but not the correct number of calories burned, according to a new report by the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. The study, which will be published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise later this summer, found that FitBit and Jawbone are significantly over- and underestimating calories burned during certain physical activities. The group’s findings come at a particularly inopportune time for Fitbit, as the company is currently facing a class-action lawsuit alleging its product, specifically its heart rate technology, is faulty and inaccurate. (McDonough, 5/24)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald's apology comes after critics blasted him about the "preposterous statement." Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., called on him to step down.
The Associated Press:
VA Chief: 'I Deeply Regret' Wait-Time Comparison To Disney
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said Tuesday he regrets remarks he made comparing long wait times at VA health care sites to waiting in line at a Disney amusement park. "It was never my intention to suggest that I don't take our mission of serving veterans very seriously," McDonald said in a written statement. "If my comments Monday led any veterans to believe that I, or the dedicated workforce I am privileged to lead, don't take that noble mission seriously, I deeply regret that. Nothing could be further from the truth." (Daly, 5/24)
VA Chief Apologizes For Comparing Medical Wait Times To Lines At Disneyland
During a roundtable discussion with reporters Monday, McDonald had said that veterans’ satisfaction with the health care experience was more important than the wait times they endured. Lawmakers lashed out in letters, official statements and social media. By Tuesday morning, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., began publicly prodding McDonald to resign. “Secretary McDonald’s preposterous statement is right out of Never Never Land,” Blunt said in a statement. “I call on him to resign because it’s clear he cannot prioritize getting our veterans the health care they deserve and have earned in a timely manner. Dismissing wait times when veterans can often wait months for an appointment is negligent and a clear sign that new leadership is needed at the VA.” (Ybarra, 5/24)
VA Secretary Bob McDonald Clarifies Comment Comparing Wait Times To Disneyland
Swift backlash followed from both sides of the aisle. When asked on MSNBC if he was sorry, McDonald stopped short of an apology, but said the VA was undergoing its largest transformation ever, saying, "We still have work to do." ... "These wait times can be a life or death matter for our veterans. We've seen the devastating results of delays in treatment, from veteran suicide to veterans dying while awaiting care," said Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. (Chuck, 5/24)
VA Secretary Facing Bipartisan Firestorm Over Disney Comments
One of the toughest condemnations came from Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat and Iraq war veteran who lost her legs in Iraq and still receives health care at a VA hospital. “Comparing abhorrent wait times to a trip to Disneyland is unbelievably tone-deaf and hurtful to American heroes desperately in need of care,” she said in a statement. Duckworth, who is running for Senate, said McDonald “needs to comprehensively address the VA's systemic problems -- and that means reducing wait times, improving care and increasing patient satisfaction.” (5/24)
Meanwhile, are "MinuteClinics" the key to solving the long wait times?
Kaiser Health News:
CVS MinuteClinics: A Cure For Long Wait Times At Veterans Affairs?
Struggling with long wait times, the Veterans Affairs Health Care System is trying something new: a partnership with the CVS Pharmacy chain to offer urgent care services to more than 65,000 veterans. The experiment begins today at the VA’s operations in Palo Alto, California. Veterans can visit 14 “MinuteClinics” operated by CVS in the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento, where staff will treat them for conditions such as respiratory infections, order lab tests and prescribe medications, which can be filled at CVS pharmacies. (Feder Ostrov, 5/25)
Restrictive laws in the state forced many clinics to close, leaving fewer than 20 to serve 5.4 million women of reproductive age. Experts calculate that as many as 240,000 have chosen to self-induce abortions since then, and warn that if the Supreme Court upholds the restrictions that number will only escalate.
Thomson Reuters Foundation:
Up Against Strict Laws, Texas Women Learn Do-It-Yourself Abortions
Susanna was young, single, broke and pregnant in southern Texas where, thanks to the state's strict laws, her chances of getting a surgical abortion at a clinic were slim to none. So she did what an estimated 100,000 women or more in Texas have done - had a self-induced abortion. With the help of a friend, some online instructions and quick dash across the Mexican border for some pills, she addressed the issue of unwanted pregnancy in a state where women are finding abortion services too expensive and too far away. (Wulfhorst, 5/24)
In other news, Democrats urge Speaker Paul Ryan to dismantle the special panel investigating fetal tissue —
The Washington Post:
181 Democrats Join Call To End House Fetal-Tissue Probe
All but a handful of House Democrats are calling on Speaker Paul D. Ryan to disband the special committee established last year to probe connections between abortion providers and medical researchers, accusing the panel of “continued abuses which jeopardize the integrity of the House and the safety of Americans.” The letter represents a new salvo in the partisan warfare over the Select Investigative Panel established in October in response to a series of undercover videos produced by anti-abortion activists. All but two Democrats voted against creating the panel, and Democratic members of the committee have called since then on several occasions for its dissolution. (DeBonis, 5/24)
The implant dispenses the drug buprenorphine for six months at a time. Benefits of the treatment could include cutting down on both relapses and the drug being sold illegally on the street.
Can A Pricey Implant To Treat Opioid Addiction Save Lives -- And Money?
The implant promises to treat opioid addiction without the hassle of a daily pill. And the company marketing the drug is so confident it’ll work, it’s planning to offer insurers a twist on a money-back guarantee: If the new device doesn’t save them money, they’ll get a refund. The implant, branded as Probuphine, relies on four tiny rods implanted under the skin to dispense the drug buprenorphine for six months at a time. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to decide on Friday whether to approve it. (Robbins, 5/25)
Could This Implant Be The New Weapon Against Opioid, Heroin Addiction?
Currently, buprenorphine for opioid dependence is available in the U.S. only in pill form and as a film that dissolves under the tongue. Both versions can be easily sold illegally, used by others and ingested accidentally by children. Experts say implants lessen those risks and make it easier for patients to stick to their buprenorphine regimen. Implants would also discourage relapses by making it harder for patients to discontinue usage when they want to get high, said Michael Sheehan, medical director at Operation PAR, a nonprofit drug treatment provider in the Bradenton, Florida, area. (Pugh, 5/24)
Kaiser Health News:
FDA Considering Pricey Implant As Treatment For Opioid Addiction
“Anything that might help people beat their opioid addiction is a good idea,” said Dr. Barbara Herbert, president of the Massachusetts Society of Addiction Medicine. But she said she also has reservations about this method of delivering treatment. The main one is price. The company says it will price the implants to be competitive with other injectable treatments used to battle opioid addiction, including a shot that costs about $1,000 a month. Buprenorphine pills, in comparison, typically cost $130 to $190 for a month’s supply. Herbert said a high price may force providers to turn patients away — or cut back on other services. “High profits in the middle of this epidemic are really unconscionable,” she said. (Bebinger, 5/25)
Meanwhile, in other news —
Kerry Urged To Pressure China To Do More To Curb Sale Of Deadly Fetanyl To U.S.
A US senator is calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to pressure the Chinese government to toughen its laws to stop the illicit export of the potent opioid fentanyl, which is now killing more Americans than heroin in many areas. (Armstrong, 5/24)
The Philadelphia Inquirer:
In Center City, Faces Of The Opiate Addiction Crisis
The idea is to figure out the best ways to harness the city's limited resources. For the approach to work, it must address two very different homeless populations. The city has already had success reaching out to one group - the chronically homeless, whom I wrote about last week - by getting many long-term homeless people into supportive housing. But a second group, the newly homeless, is swelling, thanks to the opiate addiction crisis. (Newall, 5/25)
Studies have long shown that most obese diabetics who undergo bariatric surgery see their blood sugar control dramatically improve.
The Associated Press:
Obesity Surgery Is A Good Way To Treat Diabetes, Groups Agree
International diabetes organizations are calling for weight-loss surgery to become a more routine treatment option for diabetes, even for some patients who are only mildly obese. Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are a deadly pair, and numerous studies show stomach-shrinking operations can dramatically improve diabetes. (Neergard, 5/24)
In other news, an advisory panel unanimously voices support for a new diabetes drug —
FDA Panel Recommends Approval Of Novo Nordisk Diabetes Drug
A U.S. advisory panel on Tuesday recommended approval of a new diabetes drug made by Novo Nordisk A/S that combines two of its existing treatments in a fixed-dose combination designed to be both effective and convenient. The panel voted 16-0 that the Food and Drug Administration should approve the drug, iDegLira, for patients with type 2 diabetes. The FDA is not obliged to follow the advice of its advisory panels but typically does so. (Clarke, 5/25)
Scientist Ira Pastor believes brain death is a potentially curable condition, given the right combination of stem cells, drugs, electrical currents, magnetic fields or other stimuli. But his quest to explore the idea is being greeted with skepticism, confusion and worries of a zombie apocalypse.
The Washington Post:
Sparking Fears Of A Zombie Apocalypse: Controversial Study Aims To ‘Reanimate’ The Brain Dead
Ever since Ira Pastor declared his company’s intentions to take 20 brain-dead patients and try to “regenerate” their nervous systems, his email box has been overflowing with inquiries from far-flung parts of the world. Skeptical scientists grilling him about the details of the techniques his team is using. Desperate families, who have been paying for years to keep loved ones on life support, wondering how to enroll. Outraged representatives from every major religion telling him why what he’s doing violates the laws of nature. But the most vociferous challenge, says Pastor, chief executive of Philadelphia-based Bioquark, has been from the “zombie contingent.” (Cha, 5/24)
In other public health news, those affected by an outbreak of fungal meningitis in 2012 have yet to see a dime from their civil suit, doctors are using antidepressants to treat more than depression and baby boomers are going to be expensive senior citizens —
The Washington Post:
Why Victims Of Deadly Meningitis Outbreak Haven’t Been Compensated
Kathy Pugh quit her job when her mother got sick from a tainted medication, and now Pugh spends her days helping the once-vibrant 85-year-old get out of bed, shower and dress. If her mom ever were compensated for what she endured, Pugh said she would like to install laminate flooring — which would make it easier to move around in a wheelchair — and maybe buy a handicap van. Evelyn Bates-March, Pugh’s mother, is one of hundreds of victims of a 2012 outbreak of fungal meningitis that federal investigators traced to a batch of contaminated steroid injections manufactured by the New England Compounding Center. A civil fund of more than $200 million was created after victims sued the compounding center and companies with which it did business. The federal government also has money available to compensate crime victims. But the 85-year-old, like all the others affected by the outbreak, has yet to see a dime to help her cope with how her life has changed since she was given a tainted shot. (Zapotosky, 5/24)
Los Angeles Times:
Antidepressants Aren't Just For Depression Anymore, Study Finds
Antidepressants didn’t get to be the third-most commonly prescribed medication in the United States for nothing. In fact, says a new study, the medications taken by more than 10% of American adults may be so ubiquitous because they are used to do so much. Depression medication, a new study suggests, has become a “do something” drug for primary care physicians to offer when a patient’s complaints may only be vaguely related to depression. In a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. on Tuesday, researchers reported that close to three in 10 antidepressant prescriptions written between 2006 and 2015 by general practitioners in Quebec, Canada, were for conditions for which the medications have not been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (Healy, 5/24)
Baby Boomers Will Become Sicker Seniors Than Earlier Generations
The next generation of senior citizens will be sicker and costlier to the health care system over the next 14 years than previous generations, according to a new report from the United Health Foundation. We're talking about you, Baby Boomers. The report looks at the current health status of people aged 50 to 64 and compares them to the same ages in 1999. The upshot? There will be about 55 percent more senior citizens who have diabetes than there are today, and about 25 percent more who are obese. Overall, the report says that the next generation of seniors will be 9 percent less likely to say they have good or excellent overall health. (Kodjak, 5/25)
In other news, Vice President Joe Biden will host a national cancer research summit in June.
The New York Times:
More Men With Early Prostate Cancer Are Choosing To Avoid Treatment
Seemingly overnight, treatment of men with early-stage prostate cancer has undergone a sea change. Five years ago, nearly all opted for surgery or radiation; now, nearly half are choosing no treatment at all. The approach is called active surveillance. It means their cancers are left alone but regularly monitored to be sure they are not growing. Just 10 percent to 15 percent of early-stage prostate cancer patients were being treated by active surveillance several years ago. Now, national data from three independent sources consistently finds that 40 percent to 50 percent of them are making that choice. (Kolata, 5/24)
Next Step For Biden Cancer Effort: National Summit In June
Joe Biden is set to host a national cancer research summit next month, the executive director of his initiative announced Tuesday — giving the vice president another chance to put his “moonshot” project in the spotlight in his final months in office. (Nather, 5/24)
Biden Will Host Cancer Research Summit In DC
Vice President Joe Biden [will] host a national conference on cancer research with scientists, oncologists, donors and patients, the White House said Tuesday. The "National Cancer Moonshot Summit" will be a daylong conference intended to galvanize Biden’s push to double the pace of research to cure cancer. (Master, 5/24)
A proposal by state officials to let the private insurance companies that manage the Medicaid program designate preferred providers and pay them more was questioned by consumers and providers at a public hearing. Also, the recent decision on Medicaid services by Arizona's high court did not resolve a key issue.
Kansas Health Institute:
Proposed KanCare Network Changes Draw Skepticism
A proposal to reimburse some KanCare providers at a higher level based on patient outcomes drew skepticism from a crowd of hundreds who gathered Tuesday afternoon in a Topeka hotel ballroom. Tuesday’s public meeting was the first in a series that state officials are hosting as they prepare to renew their federal application for KanCare, the state’s $3 billion managed care program that privatized all Medicaid services under three insurance companies in 2013. (Marso, 5/24)
Court: Arizona Hospitals Can Keep Funds Gathered From Medicaid-Insured Patient Liens
Arizona hospitals scored a partial victory this week with an Arizona Supreme Court decision that allows health facilities to keep years of payments from Medicaid-insured patients who agreed to share portions of their injury settlements to pay medical bills. However, the state's high court did not address a separate legal issue: whether the mechanism used by hospitals to collect these payments — filing medical liens against patients — is an allowable practice under Medicaid's rules. (Alltucker, 5/24)
The plastic mesh is used to treat pelvic organ prolapse. In response to thousands of injuries from the mesh, the Food and Drug Administration early this year re-labeled the products high risk instead of moderate and announced new federal scrutiny for them.
The Associated Press:
Washington, California Sue Over Pelvic Mesh Implants
Washington state and California sued Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday, saying that for years the company misrepresented the risks of vaginal mesh implants it sold to repair pelvic collapse. In the latest legal actions over the problem-prone devices, Attorneys General Bob Ferguson of Washington and Kamala Harris of California accused the New Jersey-based health care giant of neglecting to tell patients and doctors about the risks and occurrences of dire, sometimes irreversible complications. Those include urinary dysfunction, loss of sexual function, constipation and severe pain. (5/24)
California Sues Johnson & Johnson Over Marketing For Pelvic Mesh
California has accused Johnson & Johnson of failing to warn doctors and patients about the severity and frequency of complications associated with its pelvic mesh devices. According to the lawsuit filed by the state's attorney general on Tuesday, J&J and its Ethicon unit falsely marketed the devices as a safe and superior option to non-mesh treatments for pelvic floor disorders, when it was aware that they could cause pain, bleeding, loss of sexual function and other side effects. (Dye, 5/24)
Outlets report on health news from Vermont, California, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Florida, Detroit, Wisconsin, Delaware, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
To Combat Disease, States Make It Harder To Skip Vaccines
Even a small number of unvaccinated people can undermine the immunity of the larger population, which is leading public health officials and vaccine advocates to push for changes. Some want to educate parents about the risks of forgoing vaccines and fight what they say is misinformation about the risks posed by the vaccines. Others have pushed lawmakers to eliminate exemptions from state vaccine requirements and sought to make it more difficult for families to qualify for the exemptions that remain. (Breitenbach, 5/25)
North Carolina Health News:
ED Wait Times Not Budging For Mental Health Patients
While the situation reached a crisis point at the beginning of the month, data show that even with efforts by the state Department of Health and Human Services and willingness from Gov. Pat McCrory and lawmakers in Raleigh, wait times for care in North Carolina’s public psychiatric hospitals has remained stubbornly high. Through the end of March, waits to get into Broughton, Central Regional and Cherry hospitals have averaged 92.8 hours – just under four days. (Hoban, 5/24)
New Hampshire Public Radio:
Changing the Conversation Around Mental Health in N.H.
State leaders recently joined the medical and mental health community to launch "Change Direction NH," part of a national initiative to raise awareness of mental health disorders and eliminate the stigma around these issues. ... Still, challenges remain, including access to treatment. (5/24)
Health News Florida:
Five Medical Groups Create New Health Alliance In Tampa Area
Five medical groups are joining forces to form the Tampa Bay Health Alliance to increase access to high quality, efficient health care. (Ochoa, 5/24)
California’s Glaring Shortage Of School Nurses
California falls significantly short of a new recommendation by an influential group of pediatricians calling for every school in the United States to have at least one nurse on site. Fifty-seven percent of California’s public school districts, with 1.2 million students, do not employ nurses, according to research from Sacramento State University’s School of Nursing. (Ibarra, 5/25)
Detroit Free Press:
Gov. Rick Snyder's Legal Tab $6,500 Per Day
Bills for an outside legal firm to represent Gov. Rick Snyder in civil lawsuits related to the Flint drinking water crisis are costing taxpayers close to $6,500 a day, and Snyder spent almost the entire $400,000 allocated for the legal contract in February and March alone, records show. (Egan, 5/25)
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Progressive Opens Urgent Care Clinic At Aurora Sinai Medical Center
Progressive Community Health Centers has opened its urgent care clinic at the Aurora Sinai Medical Center and will open its primary care clinic on the downtown Milwaukee campus on June 1. (Boulton, 5/24)
The Associated Press:
Judge Tosses Rite Aid Complaint In HIV Drug Disclosure Suit
A [Delaware] judge says Rite Aid cannot blame a man who learned of his son’s HIV infection when the pharmacy told him about his son’s prescriptions. Michael Spence is suing the retailer for negligence and invasion of privacy after his father went to pick up a prescription for his mother. A clerk told him his son had two prescriptions available. Spence had not told his parents he was HIV-positive. But the father researched the drugs and learned they were HIV medicines. (Chase, 5/24)
The Des Moines Register:
Marshalltown Hospital Could Become A For-Profit Business
Marshalltown’s struggling hospital could soon become just the second for-profit community hospital in Iowa. The hospital, whose name recently changed to Central Iowa Healthcare, would be managed by a Texas company under a tentative deal announced Tuesday. (Leys, 5/24)
The Philadelphia Inquirer:
Water Worries Tap Frustration Near Former Bases
In total, 16 public wells have been closed. In the three townships, 342 private wells have been tested with 116 found to have unacceptable levels of the perfluorinated compounds, according to the EPA. The chemicals have been linked to cancer and reproductive issues. People with affected private wells have been given bottled water and are being hooked up to public-water supplies. (McDaniel, 5/25)
The Columbus Dispatch:
Lawmakers Set To Vote On Historic Medical Marijuana Bill Today
A historic bill giving Ohioans with certain medical conditions the right to use medical marijuana could receive approval today by lawmakers and be sent to Gov. John Kasich for his signature. (Johnson, 5/25)
Concordia Healthcare bought a drug to treat irritable bowel syndrome when a prescription for the medication cost about $87. Now it sells at $782.
The Other Canadian Drug Company That Has Pushed Up Drug Prices
In 2014, Concordia Healthcare bought Donnatal, a decades-old drug used to treat irritable bowel syndrome. The $265 million deal was a windfall for a company backed by Paul Manning and his PBM Capital Group, a healthcare investment firm in Charlottesville, Va. Manning’s company received a $200 million cash payment financed with a loan from GE and $65.5 million of Concordia stock that represented a 15% stake in the company at the time. A prescription for Donnatal in the U.S. sold for about $87 in 2010, but by the time Manning sold the drug to Concordia it sold for about $353, according to IMS Health data. After securing Donnatal, Concordia in June 2014 immediately doubled the price to $602, according to IMS Health data. Donnatal now sells for about $782 and it’s Concordia’s best-selling product, representing about 10% of sales. In total, the price of Donnatal has increased by 800% since 2010. (Vardi, 5/20)
Compatriot Drugmaker Shares Valeant's Appetite For Price Hikes
Valeant and fellow Canadian pharma Concordia Healthcare share a similar appetite for M&A. Another thing the two companies have in common? A zest for dramatic drug price increases on older meds. A couple years ago, Concordia said it would shell out $265 million for Donnatal, a decades-old drug that treats irritable bowel syndrome. In June 2014, Concordia jacked up Donnatal’s price to $602 from $353 per prescription, according to IMS Health data cited by Forbes. The drug, which is the company’s best-selling product, now sells for about $782 per-- an 800% increase from 2010. (Wasserman, 5/23)
Meanwhile, a series of letters between the Securities and Exchange Commission and Valeant reveal that the company was told it needed to clarify how it reported financial results to investors —
SEC Asked Valeant To Change How It Reported Deal Costs, Tax
U.S. securities regulators last year told Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. that it needed to clarify how it reported financial results to investors, and that expenses from the drugmaker’s many acquisitions shouldn’t be excluded from adjusted earnings as one-time costs. In a series of letters between the Securities and Exchange Commission and Valeant from December to April, the drugmaker was told that it could no longer describe in earnings releases a “core” business that excluded the cost of deals, because Valeant made so many acquisitions that such activity was a regular part of its operations. (Armstrong and Koons, 5/24)
News outlets report on the pharmaceutical drug industry.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
New And Expanded Medical Definitions Create More Patients — And A Lucrative Market For Drug Firms
Know someone who shouts and pounds on the steering wheel when cut off in traffic? They might be one of 16 million Americans said to suffer from "intermittent explosive disorder." Can you polish off a box of cookies while watching your favorite TV show? Could be a sign of "binge-eating disorder," said to afflict 7 million Americans. ... None of these conditions was considered part of mainstream medicine just 20 years ago. But thanks to new definitions or lowered thresholds, millions more people — overnight — fit the criteria of having treatable disorders. Many independent doctors and researchers are skeptical, saying the new conditions are the product of medical groups that get pharmaceutical industry funding, researchers looking to advance their careers and drug companies aiming to broaden the market for expensive new products. On top of that, the drugs sold to treat these newly defined — and not life-threatening — conditions often carry serious health risks, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today investigation has found. (Fauber and Fiore, 5/22)
How Big Pharma Uses Charity Programs To Cover For Drug Price Hikes
In August 2015, Turing Pharmaceuticals and its then-chief executive, Martin Shkreli, purchased a drug called Daraprim and immediately raised its price more than 5,000 percent. Within days, Turing contacted Patient Services Inc., or PSI, a charity that helps people meet the insurance copayments on costly drugs. Turing wanted PSI to create a fund for patients with toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that is most often treated with Daraprim. Having just made Daraprim much more costly, Turing was now offering to make it more affordable. But this is not a feel-good story. It’s a story about why expensive drugs keep getting more expensive, and how U.S. taxpayers support a billion-dollar system in which charitable giving is, in effect, a very profitable form of investing for drug companies—one that may also be tax-deductible. (Elgin and Langreth, 5/19)
Breakthrough Drug Prices Are Blowing Insurers' Budgets But Some Say The Drugs Are Worth It
Sky-high costs for breakthrough specialty drugs that have proven to be highly effective at treating diseases such as cancer, HIV and hepatitis C have been one of the top problems over the past several years for health insurers trying to keep premiums affordable. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association recently highlighted the issue in a report finding that spending on specialty drugs increased 26 percent - $87 per member – between 2013 and 2014. Specialty drug spending was 17 percent higher in the individual market, which includes plans sold in the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplaces, than it was in the employer market in 2014, the report found. (Hansard, 5/23)
The Wall Street Journal:
Drug-Pricing Debate: Looking Past Big Pharma’s Nightmare Scenario
A comprehensive government crackdown on high drug prices isn’t likely soon. Still, investors shouldn’t let their guard down. Biotech and pharmaceutical stocks have struggled since last summer when the controversy erupted into a big political issue. Last week’s congressional hearing on the Obama administration’s proposed experimental overhaul of the Medicare Part B program served as a reminder of pricing peril. (Grant, 5/22)
Boston Business Journal:
Biotech Analyst Says Drug Cost Brouhaha Will Have Little Effect
The 25 percent across-the-board drop in values of publicly-traded biotech firms over the past year can be traced clearly to the backlash against drug prices, spurred by pricey hepatitis C drugs and exacerbated by the likes of Martin Shkreli. But after consulting with representatives from hospitals, lobbyists and health insurance firms on the issue of drug costs last week, one leading industry analyst predicts all that backlash will have little to no lasting effect on drug prices themselves. (Seiffert, 5/23)
The Philadelphia Inquirer:
How Sick Must Hepatitis C Patients Be To Get Help?
Two years ago, James Luongo was thrilled to hear about the first new drugs that could rid his body of hepatitis C. The virus had been silently circulating in his blood for years and would likely cause liver disease, perhaps cancer. But he still felt fine. The drugs seemed like a good thing until his Medicaid insurer denied coverage of the treatment. Twice. ... The answer, most everyone agrees, is that the drugs are so expensive that states and their Medicaid contractors have felt forced to gamble. (Sapatkin, 5/22)
Battling Rising Drug Prices While Fighting A Life-Threatening Illness
As drug prices continue to soar, Americans are paying more for prescription drugs than any other country. The global pharmaceuticals market is worth $300 billion a year and is expected to rise to $400 billion within three years, according to the World Health Organization. The costs of those drugs is financially crushing for some. It's especially tough for one West Michigan woman who takes 20 medications a day. Megan Litvack,23, suffers from five chronic illnesses. She was born with three and diagnosed with two others. She takes 17 pills orally and three others through an I.V. daily. "I wouldn’t wish this upon my worst enemy," Megan said. "It’s not easy to fight for your life when your body is fighting against you." (Francis, 5/23)
Report: Specialty Drug Spending Increased 26 Percent
A Blue Cross Blue Shield Association report released Thursday found that spending per patient on specialty drugs increased by 26 percent between 2013 and 2014. The report examined both pharmacy and medical benefit claims, which takes into account the costs of drugs obtained by a prescription and those administered in a doctor’s office or hospital, which is where more than 80 percent of cancer drugs are given. BCBSA’s studies are useful because its insurers are the most active participants on the Obamacare exchanges and they encompass a fairly large sample of insurers nationwide. (Owens, 5/19)
The Wall Street Journal:
Criminal Trials Of Former Health-Care Executives Set To Begin
Two criminal trials of former health-care executives set to begin in a Boston courthouse in the coming weeks illustrate what the federal government says is a new push to hold more individuals accountable for alleged corporate wrongdoing. A former division president at drugmaker Allergan PLC’s Warner Chilcott unit will stand trial on a charge of conspiring to pay kickbacks to doctors to prod them to prescribe the company’s medicines, including osteoporosis drug Atelvia. And two former senior officers of Johnson & Johnson medical-device unit Acclarent are charged with marketing a sinus-opening device for a use not authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. All three executives deny wrongdoing. (Loftus, 5/22)
UCB Faces U.S. Patent Challenge For Epilepsy Drug
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) is to review UCB's patent for its epilepsy drug Vimpat, the latest round in a legal battle between the Belgian pharmaceutical company and generic rivals. U.S. pharmaceuticals group Argentum Pharmaceuticals, which challenged UCB's patent, said in a statement late on Monday that the PTO had granted approval for a review of the sole remaining U.S. patent of UCB's Vimpat drug, due to expire in March 2022. (5/24)
India’s New Patent Policy Spurs Debate Over Implications For Pharma
Amid an ongoing rift with the US government, India last week issued a new policy about intellectual property, but opinions are divided over whether the move will appease the pharmaceutical industry, which has been pushing the Indian government to strengthen patent protection. ... The US Trade Rep, meanwhile, recently kept India on its annual list of countries it believes does not sufficiently enforce patent rights. And global brand-name drug makers complain that laws and court rulings have made it easier for their generic rivals to sell lower-cost, copycat versions of their medicines. (Silverman, 5/23)
Editorial and opinion writers offer their take on drug-cost issues.
When Drug Prices Threaten Patient Care
The debate over high drug prices has raged for decades, thanks to the inherent tension between delivering innovative and cost-effective patient care. But recently something has changed, and it’s one that may have major ramifications for how we take care of patients – hyperinflation in drug pricing. This good news is that this new wave of hyperinflation in the pharmaceutical industry has been receiving attention on Capitol Hill. As chief clinical officer for St. Vincent Health in Indianapolis, a faith-based health system that is a member of Ascension, the largest non-profit health system in the U.S. with 2,000 sites of care, I was privileged to testify recently at a hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Of particular interest to the committee was the action of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, a company that has been exceptionally aggressive in raising its prices. (Richard Fogel, 5/19)
Cash Prizes For Pharma Are Needed To Fight Superbugs
Drug-resistant superbugs account for an estimated 700,000 deaths worldwide today, but that number could rise to 10 million within the next few decades unless new antibiotics are developed. That’s according to a new report commissioned by the UK government, which is proposing a provocative solution to the problem: a 10-year, $40 billion global fund to provide incentives to develop new superbug-fighting drugs. Under the proposed scheme, any drug maker that comes up with a useful antibiotic could receive a reward of around $1 billion. (Ed Silverman, 5/24)
New Haven Register:
‘Boat Sinking’ On Getting Handle On Prescription Drug Costs
The soaring cost of prescription drugs is expected to reach $640 billion by 2020 but it’s doing a lot more than putting a dent in people’s wallets — it is also forcing many people into life-or-death decisions, and a quick fix is nowhere near a drawing board. According to Dr. Henry Jacobs, president of the Connecticut State Medical Society, an astonishing 20 percent of cancer patients in the United States choose to forgo treatment and die rather than burden their families with medical bills that could drive them into financial ruin. (5/21)
A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.
The Wall Street Journal:
ObamaCare: A Crony Capitalist’s Best Friend
The evidence keeps mounting: Six years after being signed into law, ObamaCare is a costly and unsustainable disaster. Look at what has happened in the past month alone. A federal court ruled that the Obama administration violated the law by spending money on ObamaCare subsidies without an appropriation from Congress. In Florida, 15 health insurers are seeking an average increase in premiums of 17.7% for 2017. The continued raiding of Medicare Advantage—ObamaCare was projected in 2012 to cut $156 billion from the program over a decade—hurts many seniors in my home state and nationwide. (Marco Rubio, 5/24)
St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Block The Aetna Humana Merger
Last week, the Missouri Department of Insurance held a hearing on the proposed merger of Aetna and Humana. The hearing was not widely noticed, but it could not be more timely or important — the proposed merger threatens to raise premiums of more than 300,000 older Missourians who depend on Medicare Advantage. History demonstrates a simple and compelling truth: When insurers merge, premiums go up. Faced with this daunting truth, the merging companies presented the best economists money can buy to muddy the issue and bring confusion to simplicity. But as John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things,” and the simple facts are that the Aetna-Humana merger will eliminate competition and increase consumer costs. (David Balto, 5/24)
Implementing MACRA: Implications For Physicians And For Physician Leadership
On April 27, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the highly anticipated 962-page proposed rule1 for implementing the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). MACRA will overhaul Medicare’s physician payment system starting in 2019, placing most physicians in the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), a pay-for-performance system that adjusts payments based on measures derived from prior care. Physicians can be exempt from MIPS and receive bonus payments by demonstrating sufficient participation in advanced alternative payment models (APMs), which are intended to support greater flexibility in care delivery alongside greater accountability for efficiency and care improvement. (Jeffrey D. Clough and Mark McClellan, 5/23)
The Richmond Times Dispatch:
A Veto To Stifle Health Care Innovation
Paybacks are hell, Gov. Terry McAuliffe told Virginia Republicans last week. He didn’t put it in such undiplomatic terms, but the message is clear nonetheless. Republicans have frustrated the chief aim of McAuliffe’s only term: expanding Medicaid. Their recalcitrance has made him visibly angry at times, and the dispute over the issue has soured relations that were not exactly warm and fuzzy to begin with. (5/24)
St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Nationally, Conservatives See Danger In Opioid Epidemic. In Missouri, 'Liberty' Reigns Supreme.
The Missouri Legislature’s opioid obstinance must be confounding, even to conservative leaders at the national level. Under the guise of preventing government intrusion into citizens’ lives, conservatives in the Legislature refused this session to advance an important bill designed to help fight the nation’s increasingly deadly opioid-addiction epidemic. At the same time in Washington, conservatives — including Missouri Republicans —rallied behind a House of Representatives bill aimed precisely at the same addiction epidemic. Somehow, GOP leaders on Capitol Hill have wrapped their minds around the idea that an overwhelming public danger takes priority over contrived threats of government overreach. (5/24)
Battling Mental Illness Will Take Community Collaboration
Florida’s recently enacted mental health legislation is sound and well-meaning. Good intentions, though, don’t reinvent a system of care. The challenge we face is that funding from Tallahassee is not likely to move the needle very far from Florida’s ranking of No. 50 in the United States for mental health spending. (Susan Racher, 5/24)
Los Angeles Times:
Message To Oklahoma: Give Up On Your Unconstitutional Abortion Ban
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin was absolutely right to veto a bill on Friday that would have made it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion, except to save the life of the woman. Not only did the measure set a bad policy, it was obviously unconstitutional and could not have survived a court challenge. Nonetheless, there are rumblings among legislators about trying to override Fallin’s veto. That would be a waste of time. They should stand down immediately. (5/24)
Premium Health News Service:
Decline In Dementia Rate Offers 'Cautious Hope'
The decrease in the rate of dementia was attributed largely to two things that we have some control over -- education and heart disease. The decline was registered only in high-school graduates, but they made up most of the Framingham participants. The rate of cardiovascular disease -- including stroke, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure -- was also falling during the study period years. In that sense, the results give further support to evidence that education, which may build up a "cognitive reserve," protects against dementia -- and that cardiovascular disease, which restricts blood flow to the brain, may promote it. (Beverly Merz, 5/25)
Tethered To My Bed, I'm Still Fighting The Stigma Around Misnamed 'Chronic Fatigue Syndrome'
It started with a bout of mononucleosis. Two college roommates and I got it at the same time. They felt better after a month. I didn’t. Decades later, I’m still living with bone-penetrating exhaustion and brain fog as thick as pea soup. I spent much of my 30s and 40s tethered to my bed, too weak to function. I’ve had to abandon both my career in international relations and my social life. (Rivka Solomon, 5/24)
The Wall Street Journal:
Preparing The WHO For The Next Outbreak
The Ebola outbreak that started in 2013 confirmed what had long been evident: That the structure and approach of the World Health Organization were deeply flawed. The global community was sluggish in reacting to the crisis, with inadequate coordination and confused decision making. Vaccines and treatments that showed promise only came on stream toward the end of the epidemic, and even those owed much to luck. (Jeremy Farrar, 5/24)