Category Archives: Drugs & Medicines

A states obligated to provide expensive hepatitis C drugs?

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By Michael Ollove
Stateline

A handful of federal lawsuits against states that have denied highly effective but costly hepatitis C drugs to Medicaid patients and prisoners could cost states hundreds of millions of dollars.

The drugs boast cure rates of 95 percent or better, compared to 40 percent for previous treatments. But they cost between $83,000 and $95,000 for a single course of treatment.

The class actions, all filed in the last eight months in federal courts in Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, present a series of extremes: a deadly epidemic, a treatment that can stop the disease in its tracks, and an enormous price tag.

At least 3.5 million Americans have hepatitis C, a virus spread through blood-to-blood contact that is usually contracted through the sharing of needles or other equipment to inject drugs.

Left untreated, hepatitis C slowly destroys the liver. Medicaid beneficiaries, a low-income population, have a slightly higher rate of hepatitis C infection than the privately insured, and the rate among prisoners is 30 times higher than in the general population.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first of the new drugs, Sovaldi, in 2013. Since then, the FDA has also approved two other drugs, Viekira Pak and Harvoni.

But because the drugs are so expensive, state Medicaid programs and prisons have been restricting them to people in the advanced stages of the disease. Continue reading

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Insurers should be current on emerging treatments for consumers

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MKreidlerPhotoBy Mike Kreidler
Washington State Insurance Commissioner

A growing concern for consumers and health insurers is the cost of prescription drugs and specifically, treatment for debilitating and life-threatening diseases.

Hepatitis C is a good example. New drugs are now used to cure this life-threatening liver ailment with proven success. But the pills are costly, ranging from $55,000 to almost $95,000 per patient for a standard 12-week treatment period.

Two nationwide organizations, the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the Infectious Disease Society of America, now recommend that most patients receive treatment even if they are in the early stage of the disease versus waiting until it has progressed.

Last November, the federal government encouraged states to ensure that health coverage policies are “informed” by the treatment guidelines noted above. Unfortunately we do not have the authority to mandate that insurance companies abide by the guidelines. However, we do expect insurers to be current on all appropriate guidelines that best serve consumers. That is true for all types of treatments.

We recently asked health insurers in Washington if they were aware of the new guidelines and if they were making any changes to how they were treating patients with this disease. The responses were varied, but there were common themes:   Continue reading

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Inslee appoints Acting Secretary for DSHS, launches national search for new secretary

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LashwayBioOlympia, Feb. 3 — Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday announced he is appointing Patricia Lashway, Assistant Secretary for the Department of Social and Health Services’ Services and Enterprise Support Administration, to serve as Acting Secretary of the 17,500-employee agency.

The Department provides assistance to 2.5 million of Washington residents providing behavioral health and developmental disability services, aging and long-term care and child and family support, juvenile rehabilitation, and food and cash assistance.

Outgoing Secretary Kevin W. Quigley, who has served as DSHS Secretary since Inslee took office in 2013, announced his resignation January 5 and will depart the agency on Feb. 22. Lashway’s appointment will begin Feb. 23.

In her current position, Lashway is responsible for day-to-day management of the Department. Prior to that, she was the DSHS Senior Director of Policy and External Relations where she oversaw strategic development, legislative and policy initiatives.

Her career with DSHS began in 1988 at what was then the Aging and Disability Services Administration, where she served for almost nine years as the Director of Residential Care Services.

Her team was responsible for developing a nationally recognized statewide complaint resolution and investigation unit that provided the foundation to serve all long-term care consumers in the state and their families.

Prior to state service Lashway worked in the legal field and has spent her career, including overseas duty as a Peace Corps volunteer.

“This is a critical time for the Department, especially with the challenges surrounding mental health services, and I’m confident our team, with the support of the governor and legislature, will ensure we provide the critical services to those who need them,” said Lashway. “I look forward to this assignment and appreciate the confidence by both the governor and my colleagues.”

Lashway received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon, a juris doctorate from Seattle University and is a member of the Washington State Bar Association.

A national executive search will begin next week for a new DSHS Secretary.

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Martin Shkreli-style drug price hikes are everywhere – CBS News

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Twenty-dollar bill in medicine bottleAbout 20 brand-name prescription drugs have at least quadrupled since December 2014, while another 60 medications have seen their prices more than double in the same time period, Bloomberg News reports, citing a report from price-comparison software company DRX.

Source: Martin Shkreli-style drug price hikes are everywhere – CBS News

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A text from the doctor can prod patients to take their medicine, study finds, but questions linger

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By Shefali Luthra
KHN

A spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down, but that’s hardly useful if a patient doesn’t remember to take it in the first place.

According to a new analysis, there could be a possible solution: text message reminders sent to patients’ phones from the doctor.

Researchers found that texts could push people to do better at adhering to their drug regimens and, along the way, save the health system a fair bit of money.

The paper, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, reviewed data from 16 studies, all of which explored whether mobile telephone text reminders sent to patients made them more likely to take their medicine.

In total, the studies included in this meta-analysis tracked the behavior of almost 3,000 chronically ill patients, looking at how well they complied with medication regimens, and found the text messages had an impact.

Across the various studies, patients went from having a 50 percent rate of following through on medication to a nearly 68 percent rate.

On its face, that looks like quite a jump.

But readers should view the findings with a degree of caution, the authors noted. They pointed out that several of the studies they examined relied on participants to self-report how faithful they were with their prescription drugs.

Since people often misremember or misreport this kind of information, that measure isn’t always the most reliable.

In addition, the studies included in the analysis lasted on average about three months, though chronically ill people take their medications for years.

Thus, the studies may not have accounted for whether patients eventually experience text message fatigue and consequently paid the reminders less attention.

If that is the case, then text messages could initially be effective but, over time, lose their power in helping people take medicine. Continue reading

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California voters to have their say on drug prices

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Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Anna Gorman
KHN

California voters will weigh in this November on a high-stakes ballot propositionintended to help control the cost of prescription drugs – the latest attempt to limit soaring prices that have prompted public criticism nationwide.

The proposition would require the state to drive a harder bargain with drug companies so it doesn’t pay more for medications than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The initiative would affect about 5 million people whose health care is covered by the state, proponents said. They include retired state workers, inmates and some low-income residents in the Medi-Cal insurance program.

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According to AARP, the retail price for 98 specialty drugs widely used to treat chronic conditions rose dramatically between 2005 and 2013. As indicated in the graph, the annual retail price of therapy per drug increased from $18,240 in 2005 to $53,384 in 2013.

Across the nation, prices have spawned state legislative proposals as well as federal hearings and task forces. Dozens of bills have been proposed to address the high cost of specialty drugs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Political leaders in Virginia and New Jersey have introduced legislation that would require manufacturers to report production costs of some high-priced drugs. A bill in New Mexico would create a task force on pharmaceutical pricing, while a proposed law in Washington state would cap consumers’ out-of-pocket spending on prescription medications.

Even presidential candidates have offered proposals to make expensive prescription drugs more accessible.

Among the catalysts for public outrage are the sky-high price of treatments for diseases such as hepatitis C and the unapologetic markups for specialty drugs by former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli.

“It’s a universal issue,” said Geoffrey Joyce, a professor and director at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics. “How do we control these prices and at the same time not dampen incentives to innovate?” Continue reading

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US cancer centers urge HPV vaccination

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hpvSixty-nine top US cancer centers, including Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, have issued a letter urging that adolescents, teens and young adults to be vaccinated against the cancer-causing human papilloma virus (HPV).

They write:

Approximately 79 million people in the United States are currently infected with a human papillomavirus (HPV) according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 14 million new infections occur each year. Several types of high-risk HPV are responsible for the vast majority of cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat) and other genital cancers.

The CDC also reports that each year in the U.S., 27,000 men and women are diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer, which amounts to a new case every 20 minutes. Even though many of these HPV-related cancers are preventable with a safe and effective vaccine, HPV vaccination rates across the U.S. remain low.

Together we, a group of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Centers, recognize these low rates of HPV vaccination as a serious public health threat. HPV vaccination represents a rare opportunity to prevent many cases of cancer that is tragically underused. As national leaders in cancer research and clinical care, we are compelled to jointly issue this call to action. Continue reading

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Medicaid to fund more addiction treatment

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By Ben Allen
WITF/KHN/NPR

For decades, if someone on Medicaid wanted to get treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, they almost always had to rely solely on money from state and local sources.

Now, in a dramatic shift, the federal government is considering chipping in, too. The agency that governs Medicaid is proposing to cover 15 days of inpatient rehab per month for anyone enrolled in a Medicaid managed care plan.

But in Pennsylvania, those who work in the addiction field are not happy with that news. While it’s a good start, they say, 15 days of residential care isn’t nearly enough time for many people addicted to heroin, opioids, alcohol or other drugs to get clean and stay that way.

“Where they came up with the 15 days, I don’t know, but it’s not based on research,” said Mike Harle, head of the nonprofit treatment program Gaudenzia, which serves about 20,000 patients a year in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. In just 15 days, he said, you can’t expect to achieve a positive outcome. Continue reading

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Does your favorite supplement contain an illegal drug? Search this database to find out.

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supplementsThe news website Vox.com has created a searchable database which you can use to find out if the supplement you’re taking (or thinking about taking) contain an illegal drugs.

From Vox’s story:

Americans spend more than $30 billion on supplements each year. Supplements are now the most common form of alternative medicine, and many of these pills promise to do incredible things, from boosting memory and building muscles to burning fat fast.

There’s just one problem: These pills are barely regulated. Supplement makers don’t need to prove their products are safe or even effective before putting them on store shelves.

And while supplements are supposed to be accurately labeled, a Vox review of government databases, court documents, and scientific studies uncovered more than 850 products that illegally contain hidden ingredients — including banned drugs, pharmaceuticals like antidepressants, and other synthetic chemicals that have never been tested on humans.

To read the Vox article and search its database go here.

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Doctors seek to prevent abuse in midst of opioid epidemic

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The U.S. is in the grips of a prescription drug epidemic, fueled in part by an explosion in opioid prescriptions over the past several decades. Roughly half of those prescriptions are written by primary care doctors. NPR’s Robert Siegel talks with Dr. Wanda Filer, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, about her experience prescribing opioids and what doctors can do to prevent abuse.

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Drug overdose deaths hit all-time high – CDC

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Tablet Thumb BlueMore persons died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014 than during any previous year on record, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in this week’s issue of the MMWR.

Some facts from the report

  • From 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million persons in the United States have died from drug overdoses.
  • In 2014, there were approximately one and a half times more drug overdose deaths in the United States than deaths from motor vehicle crashes.
  • Opioids, primarily prescription pain relievers and heroin, are the main drugs associated with overdose deaths.
  • In 2014, opioids were involved in 28,647 deaths, or 61% of all drug overdose deaths; the rate of opioid overdoses has tripled since 2000.

The 2014 data demonstrate that the United States’ opioid overdose epidemic includes two distinct but interrelated trends: a 15-year increase in overdose deaths involving prescription opioid pain relievers and a recent surge in illicit opioid overdose deaths, driven largely by heroin.

To read the report go here.

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