Category Archives: Drugs & Medicines

Global Health News – October 24th

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Get your flu shot now, state health officials say

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Flu virus - courtesy of NAIAD

Flu virus – courtesy of NAIAD

Flu can be serious and deadly; get vaccinated now before people are sick

 Flu season is upon us and although state health officials don’t know exactly when the flu will strike, how serious it will be or how long the season will last, they do know that it spreads every year and now is the time to get vaccinated against this serious, sometimes deadly virus.

 “The first and most important thing you can do to protect yourself from flu is to get vaccinated every year,” says State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. “Flu vaccine is available now in most provider offices and pharmacies across the state and getting it now will provide protection throughout the season. It’s not too early.” Continue reading

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California Prop. 46, inspired by tragedy, pits doctors against lawyers

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Bob and Carmen Pack with their children Troy and Alana, who were killed by an impaired driver.

Bob and Carmen Pack with their children Troy and Alana, who were killed by an impaired driver.

This story is part of a partnership that includes KQEDNPR and Kaiser Health News.

Troy and Alana Pack had spent the day at their neighborhood Halloween party in Danville.

Ten-year-old Troy went as a baseball player, and 7-year-old Alana was a good witch.

In the afternoon, they changed out of their costumes and set out for a walk with their mother. Destination: Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors.

“Alana, she liked anything with chocolate,” says their father, Bob Pack. “Troy, for sure, bubble gum ice cream, ’cause he liked counting the bubble gums that he would get.”

Bob Pack stayed home. His family made it only half a mile down the road before his phone rang: “I received a call from a neighbor screaming there’d been an accident. And I raced down there.”

An impaired driver had veered off the road and hit Troy and Alana head-on. Pack was doing CPR on Troy when the paramedics arrived.

“I remember telling them I love them, and hang on. Just praying that they could hang on,” he says

I needed to take action for justice.

Troy and Alana were pronounced dead at the hospital. In the months after their death, Pack’s wife, Carmen, retreated into her Catholic faith. Bob Pack was angry.

“I think, for me to get through, I needed action,” he says, “and I needed to take action for justice for Troy and Alana, and also for doing something that I thought maybe I could change to benefit others in the future.” Continue reading

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Vaccination rates lower among US adults born abroad

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Vaccine SquareBy Milly Dawson
Health Behavior News Service

Nationality at birth appears to play a significant role in whether or not adults in the United States are routinely vaccinated for preventable diseases, a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds, reflecting a risky medical lapse for more than one in ten people nationwide.

Foreign-born adult U.S. residents, who make up about 13 percent of the population, receive vaccinations at significantly lower rates than U.S.-born adults.

Foreign-born adult U.S. residents make up about 13 percent of the population.

This gap poses special risks for certain groups of people who are vulnerable to many serious and sometimes deadly diseases that vaccines can prevent.

The study’s lead author, Peng-Jun Lu, MD, PhD, a researcher at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, noted the rise in the foreign-born population in the United States, which stood at only five percent in 1970.

“As their numbers continue to rise, it will become increasingly important to consider this group in our efforts to increase vaccination and eliminate coverage disparities,” he said. Continue reading

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Got insurance? You still may pay a steep price for prescriptions

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This KHN story also ran in .

Sandra Grooms recently got a call from her oncologist’s office. The chemotherapy drugs he wanted to use on her metastatic breast cancer were covered by her health plan, with one catch: Her share of the cost would be $976 for each 14-day supply of the two pills.

“I said, ‘I can’t afford it,’ ” said Grooms, 52, who is insured through her job as a general manager at a janitorial supply company in Augusta, Ga. “I was very upset.”

Insurers and employers shifting more of the cost of high-priced pharmaceuticals to the patients who take them.

.Even with insurance, some patients are struggling to pay for prescription drugs for conditions such as cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis or HIV/AIDS, as insurers and employers shift more of the cost of high-priced pharmaceuticals to the patients who take them.

Increasingly, health plans – even those offered to people with job-based coverage–require hefty payments by patients like Grooms.

In some plans, patients must pay 20 to 40 percent or more of the total cost of medications that insurers deem to be specialty drugs and place in the highest tiers of patient cost sharing. Continue reading

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Medicaid ADHD treatment under scrutiny

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Amid national concerns that too many children are being medicated for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), some state Medicaid programs are stepping up oversight of diagnoses and treatments.

By Christine Vestal
Stateline

ATLANTA – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, affects one in every seven school-aged children in the U.S., and between 2003 and 2011 the number of children diagnosed with the condition rose by more than 40 percent.

Doctors have considerable leeway in deciding the best course of treatment for a child with the condition, no matter who is paying the bill.

But children covered by Medicaid, the joint federal-state health care program for the poor, are at least 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder.

Children covered by Medicaid are at least 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder.

Georgia alone spends $28 million to $33 million annually on these treatments out of its $2.5 billion Medicaid budget, according to the Barton Child Law and Policy Center here at Emory University.

That is partly because of the toll poverty takes on kids and a lack of resources in poorer schools. But some states believe there are other factors at work.

Several have begun to investigate whether doctors and mental health providers who bill Medicaid for ADHD are rigorously using evidence-based guidelines when diagnosing and treating it.

ADD by state

In Georgia, state Medicaid officials are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve the accuracy of diagnoses and the efficacy of treatments for the ailment.

Missouri and Vermont have also sought the CDC’s help in analyzing Medicaid claims data to determine how best to improve care for what has become the most commonly diagnosed childhood behavioral disorder. Continue reading

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States negotiate for better drug prices

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Because of skyrocketing prescription drug prices, some state Medicaid programs and prison systems are limiting certain drugs to only the sickest patients. Some states are negotiating better pricing.

By Michael Ollove
Stateline

Twenty-dollar bill in medicine bottleThe new hepatitis C drug Sovaldi promises a cure rate of well over 90 percent, compared to 45 percent (at best) for older drugs. But when Sovaldi went on the market earlier this year for as much as $84,000 for a single course of treatment, critics blasted the cost as “exorbitant” and “gouging.”

It is estimated that between 3.2 million and 5.2 million Americans have hepatitis C, an infectious illness that can eventually compromise the liver.

The disease falls disproportionately on the poor and the incarcerated, which makes it a particular challenge for Medicaid, the federal-state health plan for the poor, and for state prison systems.

One study by Express Scripts, a drug benefits management company, estimated it would cost states $55 billion to provide Sovaldi to all prisoners and Medicaid beneficiaries with hepatitis C.

Because of its high cost, some state Medicaid programs and prison systems are refusing to provide Sovaldi to any but the sickest patients. Most recently, Oregon last month threatened to limit access to the drug unless it can get Sovaldi at a deeply discounted price.

“Sovaldi is a seminal event,” said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors. “It’s clear that states are not equipped to handle this. They simply do not have the tools to maintain control.”

But Sovaldi is only the beginning. Expensive new treatments for certain cancers, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions also have rattled Medicaid officials, patients and health care providers.

What can states do to hold down drug costs? Drug pricing is a complicated and opaque process. Here are some of the basics.

Question: Is each state Medicaid program on its own when it comes to drug pricing?

Answer: Not completely. The federal Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 mandates that drug makers give all Medicaid programs a 23 percent rebate off the Average Manufacturers Price (AMP) for all prescription drugs purchased, or the difference between the AMP and the best price given to a private payer. (Prisons aren’t covered by this discount provision and have to negotiate drug prices as any retailer does.)

In return for the rebates, Medicaid programs must carry all drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on their “formularies,” which is the list of the medications each health plan will pay for.  That guarantee means that the drug makers get access to substantial markets in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Continue reading

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Low-cost, long-acting contraceptives cut teen pregnancy, abortion rates

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A diagram showing a hormonal IUD in the uterusBy Lisa Gillespie
KHN / OCTOBER 1ST, 2014

Teenage girls who are given access to long-acting contraceptives such as IUDs or hormonal implants at no cost are less likely to become pregnant, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine released Wednesday.

The findings come just two days after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that health providers should consider IUDs and implants first when discussing contraception choices with teen girls.

Young women with access to these methods at no cost were almost five times less likely to get pregnant, five times less likely to give birth and four times less likely to have an abortion.

Although there are not as many teenage pregnancies as there once were — rates have been cut by more than half since 1991 — they still pose serious public health issues because of the costs associated with child birth and public assistance for young mothers.

These pregnancies can also stunt education and income opportunities for teenage moms.

Each year, 750,000 teenage girls become pregnant, and 80 percent of those pregnancies are unintended. Continue reading

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ProPublica’s ‘first dive’ into the Open Payments website

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The government’s data on payments to doctors and hospitals by drug and device makers is incomplete and hard to penetrate – but here’s a first look.


Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 10.26.19 AMBy Charles Ornstein
ProPublica

The federal government unveiled data Tuesday detailing 4.4 million payments made to doctors and teaching hospitals by pharmaceutical and medical device companies.

The launch of the so-called Open Payments website, mandated under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, was far from glitch-free: Some users encountered long delays and sometimes error messages trying to access its seven data tables.

Also, the site didn’t provide consumers with an easy-to-use lookup tool, a single place to search for a doctor’s name and see all results across data files.

It will take a while to dig deeply into this new trove of data, which covers the period of August to December 2013 and includes general and research payments, as well as payments to companies’ physician investors.

All told, according to officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, companies spent a total of $3.5 billion during that period on 546,000 individual physicians and almost 1,360 teaching hospitals.

So what’s interesting at first glance? With the caveats we’ll detail, here’s a few nuggets: Continue reading

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What to be wary of in the government’s new site detailing industry payments to docs

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The government’s new website on drug and device company ties to doctors will be incomplete and may be misleading — for now.

Twenty-dollar bill in medicine bottleBy Charles Ornstein
ProPublica, Sep. 30, 2014, 10 a.m.

The government’s release today of a trove of data detailing drug and device companies’ payments to doctors has been widely hailed as a milestone for transparency.

But it is also something else: a very limited window into the billions in industry spending. Before you dive in and search your doctor, here are five caveats to keep in mind.

Tracking the Money

* The data only covers a fraction of payments

The Physician Payment Sunshine Act, part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, called for the first public release of this data 18 months ago.

But because of delays writing detailed rules implementing the law, the first release of data will happen today and it will only cover payments for a few months, from August to December 2013.

So if you search for your doctor and you do not find him or her, it doesn’t mean that he or she didn’t receive a payment. Continue reading

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Medicare open enrollment fast approaching — What we know so far

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Calendar

By Michelle Andrew
KHN / September 30th

Medicare beneficiaries who want to make changes to their prescription drug plans or Medicare Advantage coverage can do so starting Oct. 15 during the Medicare’s program’s annual open enrollment period.

There will be somewhat fewer plans to pick from this year, but in general people will have plenty of options, experts say.

And although premiums aren’t expected to rise markedly overall in 2015—and in some cases may actually decline—some individual plans have signaled significantly higher rates.

The annual open enrollment period is also a once-a-year opportunity to switch to a private Medicare Advantage plan from the traditional Medicare fee-for-service plan or vice versa.

.Rather than rely on the sticker price of a plan alone, it’s critical that beneficiaries compare the available options in their area to make sure they’re in the plan that covers the drugs and doctors they need at the best price.

The annual open enrollment period is also a once-a-year opportunity to switch to a private Medicare Advantage plan from the traditional Medicare fee-for-service plan or vice versa. Open enrollment ends Dec. 7.

Although the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has released some specifics about 2015 premiums and plans, many details about provider networks, drug formularies and the like won’t be available until later this fall. Here’s what we know so far: Continue reading

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Got Drugs? – National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is Today

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Got Drugs

Got Drugs? – National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day

September 27, 2014
10AM to 2PM

The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, while also educating the general public about the potential for abuse of medications.

Locate a Collection Site Near You

 

 

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Vicodin, some other pain meds will be harder to get – DEA

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Patients who use drugs containing hydrocodone as a pain reliever or cough suppressant are going to have to jump through more hoops to get them starting next month.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is reclassifying so-called “hydrocodone combination products” (HCP) from Schedule III to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act, which will more tightly restrict access. Vicodin, for example, is an HCP because it has hydrocodone and acetaminophen.

The final regulation, which takes effect Oct. 6, will mean that patients generally must present a written prescription to receive the drug, and doctors will no longer be able to call in a prescription to the pharmacy in most instances.

Many patients with painful chronic diseases, including cancer, take hydrocodone combination products

.The regulation is a response to the widespread misuse of prescription pain killers.

In an emergency, doctors will still be able to call in a prescription, according to the new rule. And although prescription refills are prohibited, a doctor can, at his discretion, issue multiple prescriptions that would provide up to a 90-day supply.

These measures don’t satisfy consumer advocates or pharmacists who are opposed to the new rule. Continue reading

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Drugstore chain teams up with hospitals and doctors: Win-win?

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Neglected to pick up your prescription? Now, there’s a good chance your doctor will know and do something about it, thanks to a slew of new partnerships between CVS Health and various health systems.

One of the most recent, which is slated to begin by early next year, will integrate the electronic medical records from MedStar Health’s 10 hospitals and 4,000 doctors – located in Washington, D.C. and Maryland — with CVS pharmacies as well as the chain’s 900 Minute Clinics located across the country.

It makes coordination easier, said Bob Gilbert, MedStar’s president of ambulatory services. When someone gets care at a pharmacy or retail clinic, it will be entered in the patient’s MedStar records for the doctor to see.

If a MedStar patient receives CVS service in another state, practitioners there will still be able to see the patient’s records.

Counting the MedStar partnership, CVS now has 41 such health-system agreements in place, with the last nine encompassing the retailers’ pharmacies. CVS hopes the other existing arrangements – which linked the systems with the Minute Clinics — will follow this course. Continue reading

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The great e-cig debate

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Fred Hutch and SCCA experts weigh in on the good, bad and ugly of the electronic cigarette quandary

By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Jenny McCarthy

TV personality Jenny McCarthy is a paid spokesperson for Blu eCigs. Photo by Blu eCigs

Since electronic cigarettes were introduced to the world a decade ago, they have grabbed headlines, frustrated physicians and thoroughly confused consumers.

“Our patients are highly motivated to quit, but they’re confused about the mixed messages of e-cigarettes,” said Donna Manders, a certified tobacco treatment specialist at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. “A lot of them believe the hype that is out there, that these must be safe because they’re being sold everywhere.”

Unfortunately, there are far more advertisements, celebrity spokesmodels (like anti-vaccine advocate Jenny McCarthy) and new brands of e-cigs than strong, evidence-based studies.

“There’s a lot of excitement but very little data,” said Jonathan Bricker, psychologist and smoking cessation researcher in the Public Health Sciences division of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “The FDA has to regulate the device before a researcher can conduct a trial on its efficacy for smoking cessation and the devices aren’t regulated yet. We’re in a Catch-22.” Continue reading

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