Category Archives: Drugs & Medicines

States move to limit patient costs for high-priced drugs

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By Michael Ollove
Stateline

As more expensive specialty drugs come on the market to treat some of the most serious chronic diseases, more states are stepping in to cushion the financial pain for patients who need medicine that can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Continue reading

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Use only approved prescription ear drops, FDA warns

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ucm453229FDA consumer update

For years health care providers and pharmacies have sold ear drops that contain ingredients like benzocaine and hydrocortisone that have not been evaluated for safety and effectiveness by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Now the FDA notifying companies to stop marketing 16 unapproved prescription drugs labeled to relieve ear pain and swelling.

FDA wants to make sure that the next time your child has ear pain requiring a prescription drug, the product has been approved by FDA as safe and effective.

“If we don’t know whether these drugs have any benefits, we should not accept any possible risk of side effects,” says FDA’s Charles E. Lee, M.D. Continue reading

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Measles led to death of Clallam Co. woman; first in US in a dozen years

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From Washington State Department of Health

Tragic outcome for immunocompromised patient shows need for community protection

Measles Virus

The death of a Clallam County woman this spring was due to an undetected measles infection that was discovered at autopsy.

The woman was most likely exposed to measles at a local medical facility during a recent outbreak in Clallam County.

She was there at the same time as a person who later developed a rash and was contagious for measles.

The woman had several other health conditions and was on medications that contributed to a suppressed immune system.

The last confirmed measles death in the United States was reported in 2003.

She didn’t have some of the common symptoms of measles such as a rash, so the infection wasn’t discovered until after her death. The cause of death was pneumonia due to measles.

This tragic situation illustrates the importance of immunizing as many people as possible to provide a high level of community protection against measles. Continue reading

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California’s tough new law overcomes distrust of vaccines

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Boy gets shot vaccine injectionBy April Dembosky, KQED

On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed into law a requirement that nearly all children be vaccinated in order to attend school.

With the stroke of a pen, California went from being a state with relatively lax vaccination rules to one of the most strict in the country — joining Mississippi and West Virginia as states where even exemptions for religious beliefs are not allowed.

As the bill worked its way through the legislative process, it faced strong, consistent, vocal opposition from some parents, including a small group of protesters who stood vigil outside the Capitol in Sacramento for days before it was clear Brown would sign the bill.

The protesters are passionate, inflamed mainly by discredited beliefs that vaccines are linked to autism. But opposition to vaccines is far from new. Continue reading

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Fraud still plagues Medicare drug program, watchdog finds

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by Charles Ornstein ProPublica,

This article has been corrected.

Fraud and abuse continue to dog Medicare’s popular prescription drug program despite a bevy of initiatives launched to prevent them, according to two new reports by the inspector general of Health and Human Services.

The release follows the arrests of 44 pharmacy owners, doctors and others, who last week were accused of bilking the program, known as Part D.

The reports issued Tuesday provide more insight into the extent of the fraud, as well as steps federal regulators should take to stop it. The first, which covers data from last year, found: Continue reading

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Most say drug costs ‘unreasonable’

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Most Americans Say Drug Costs Are ‘Unreasonable,’ Although They Can Still Afford To Buy Them

By Phil Galewitz
KHN

Nearly three in four Americans say the costs of prescription drugs are “unreasonable” — and most blame drugmakers for those prices, according to a poll released Tuesday.

The survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 74 percent of those taking prescription drugs find the costs unreasonable, as do 72 percent of those not taking such drugs. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

The poll builds on the results of an earlier Kaiser survey in April that identified high drug costs as the public’s top health care priority for Congress and the president.

Drug costs have gained attention in the past year in part as a result of controversies surrounding Sovaldi and other new hepatitis C drugs, which can cure most cases of the deadly liver disease but at a price of $84,000 for a 12-week treatment.

The high cost has strained Medicaid and Medicare budgets and left private insurers scrambling.

Half the public say they take prescription drugs. More than three quarters of those say they are easy to afford, with only one in five saying they have difficulty paying for them. Continue reading

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Washington state kindergarten vaccination rate below target goal

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Boy gets shot vaccine injectionOnly 83% of kindergarten students in Washington state arrive in the fall up-to-date on their immunizations, the Washington State Department of Health report.

This is well below the target goal of 95%, the level that is usually sufficient to halt the spread of infectious diseases such as measles through a community. None of the individual vaccines required for school meet this goal.

The low vaccination rate is of particular concern in light of recent outbreaks of measles and whooping cough, diseases which can be prevented with timely vaccination, health officials said.

About one in twenty, 4.5%, Washington state kindergarten students opted out of vaccinations due to medical, personal, or religious reasons. Washington has historically had high exemption rates for kindergarteners. Although exemption rates have come down since they peaked in 2008, but the improvement has leveled-off for the past few years.

In Washington, all recommended vaccines are available at no cost for kids through age 18 from health care providers across the state.

Although providers may charge an office visit fee and an administration fee for the vaccine, a family that can’t afford to pay can ask their regular provider to waive the administration fee.

For help finding a health care provider or an immunization clinic, call your local health agency, visit the ParentHelp123 resource finder, or call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.

 

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One Nation, Under Sedation: Medicare Paid for Nearly 40 Million Tranquilizer Prescriptions in 2013

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Three red and white capsulesBy Charles Ornstein
ProPublica

This story was co-published with the Boston Globe, the Miami Herald and Health News Florida.

In 2012, Medicare’s massive prescription drug program didn’t spend a penny on popular tranquilizers such as Valium, Xanax and Ativan.

The following year, it doled out more than $377 million for the drugs.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 8.59.21 AMWhile it might appear that an epidemic of anxiety swept the nation’s Medicare enrollees, the spike actually reflects a failed policy initiative by Congress.

More than a decade ago, when lawmakers created Medicare’s drug program, called Part D, they decided not to pay for anti-anxiety medications.

Some of these drugs, known as benzodiazepines, had been linked to abuse and an increased risk of falls and fractures among the elderly, who make up most of the Medicare population.

But doctors didn’t stop prescribing the drugs to Medicare enrollees. Patients just found other ways to pay for them.

When Congress later reversed the payment policy under pressure from patient groups and medical societies, it swiftly became clear that a huge swath of Medicare’s patients were already using the drugs despite the lack of coverage.

In 2013, the year Medicare started covering benzodiazepines, it paid for nearly 40 million prescriptions, a ProPublica analysis of recently released federal data shows.

Generic versions of the drugs 2014 alprazolam (which goes by the trade name of Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan) and clonazepam (Klonopin) 2014 were among the top 32 most-prescribed medications in Medicare Part D that year.

And it appears these were not new prescriptions. Continue reading

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Travel smart: get vaccinated – CDC

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Before you travel internationally, ensure that you are up to date on all your routine vaccines, as well as travel vaccines.

airplane thumbMore and more Americans are travelling internationally each year. Today more than a third of Americans have a passport.  It is important to remember that some types of international travel, especially to developing countries and rural areas, have higher health risks.

These risks depend on a number of things including:

  • Where you are traveling
  • Your activities while traveling
  • Your current health status
  • Your vaccination history

Measles and International Travel

Each year, unvaccinated people get measles while in other countries and bring it to the United States. This has sometimes led to outbreaks.  The majority of measles cases brought into the U.S. come from U.S. residents. When we can identify vaccine status, almost all are unvaccinated.

Vaccination is the best protection against measles. Before leaving for trips abroad, make sure you and your family are protected against measles. Plan ahead and check with your doctor to see if you and your family need MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine.

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What preventive services must be provided for free under the Affordable Care Act?

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Preventive Services Covered Under the Affordable Care A

stethoscope doctor's bag chest x-rayIf you have a new health insurance plan or insurance policy beginning on or after September 23, 2010, the following preventive services must be covered without your having to pay a copayment or co-insurance or meet your deductible. This applies only when these services are delivered by a network provider.

  • Covered Preventive Services for Adults
  • Covered Preventive Services for Women, Including Pregnant Women
  • Covered Preventive Services for Children

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‘Free’ contraception means ‘free,’ Obama administration tells insurers

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Birth control patch - Photo by John Heilman, MD under creative commons licesnse

Birth control patch – Photo by John Heilman, MD (CC)

By Phil  Galewitz
KHN

Free means free.

The Obama administration said Monday that health plans must offer for free at least one of every type of prescription birth control — clarifying regulations that left some insurers misinterpreting the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.

“Today’s guidance seeks to eliminate any ambiguity,” the Health and Human Services Department said. “Insurers must cover without cost-sharing at least one form of contraception in each of the methods that the Food and Drug Administration has identified … including the ring, the patch and intrauterine devices.”

The ruling comes after reports by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the National Women’s Law Center, an advocacy group, found many insurers were not providing no-cost birth control for all prescription methods. (KHN is an editorially independent project of the Kaiser Family Foundation.) Continue reading

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Washington state whooping cough study shows vaccine protection fades over time

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But vaccination still the best tool for protection, health officials say

From the Washington State Department of Health:

Photomicrograph of the bacteria that causes whooping cough

A new study shows that whooping cough vaccinations wear off over time, but they’re still the best protection against the dangerous disease.

The study, released in the May edition of the journal Pediatrics, used data from the 2012 whooping cough epidemic in Washington.

The article, entitled “Tdap Vaccine Effectiveness in Adolescents During the 2012 Washington State Pertussis Epidemic” is one of the first studies to test how long the adolescent and adult (Tdap) whooping cough vaccines are effective.

The investigation analyzed vaccine histories of 11- to 19-year-olds who contracted whooping cough — also called pertussis == during the 2012 epidemic.

For each case, researchers also looked at the vaccine histories of three adolescents that didn’t have whooping cough but were the same age and went to the same doctor.

While whooping cough vaccines are the best form of defense against the disease, the study found that much of the protection from the Tdap vaccine may wear off after two to four years.

State officials say the study shows that Tdap is most effective in its first year, underscoring the importance of high-risk individuals and pregnant women getting vaccinated. Continue reading

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