Category Archives: Hepatitis

Medicaid denies nearly half of requests for hepatitis C drug

Hepatitis C virus

Hepatitis C virus

By Michelle Andrews

People with hepatitis C who sought prescriptions for highly effective but pricey new drugs were significantly more likely to get turned down if they had Medicaid coverage than if they were insured by Medicare or private commercial policies, a recent study found.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine analyzed the hepatitis C prescriptions from 2,342 patients in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey that were submitted between November 2014 and April 2015 to a large specialty pharmacy that serves the region.

The drugs included Sovaldi, Harvoni and Viekira Pak, and others that are part of the treatment regimen. A 12-week course of treatment for one patient can reach more than $90,000. Continue reading


Can Yelp help track food poisoning outbreaks?


yelp-logoBy Barbara Feder Ostrov

When a Shigella outbreak at a San Jose, Calif. seafood restaurant sickened dozens of people last weekend, Yelp reviewers were on the case – right alongside public health officials.

“PLEASE DO NOT EAT HERE!!!!” Pauline A. wrote in her Oct. 18 review of the Mariscos San Juan #3 restaurant. “My sister in and brother-in-law along with his parents ate here Friday night and all four of them ended up in the hospital with food poisoning!!!”

Research suggests that Yelp reviews may act as an early warning system or identify potential patients that public health officials might not otherwise have found in their food-borne illness investigations.

That same day, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department shut down the restaurant. Two days later, officials announced that more than 80 people who had eaten there had become acutely ill, with many requiring hospitalization. Twelve diners went to intensive care units.

Since then, the outbreak has grown to  more than 90 cases in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Continue reading


Medicare spending for hepatitis C cures surges


Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Charles Ornstein ProPublica
This story was co-published with The Washington Post.

Medicare’s prescription drug program spent nearly $4.6 billion in the first half of this year on expensive new cures for the liver disease hepatitis C 2014 almost as much as it spent for all of 2014.

Medicare’s drug program spent an eye-popping $4.8 billion for hepatitis C drugs in 2014.

Rebates from pharmaceutical companies 2014 the amounts of which are confidential 2014 will reduce Medicare’s final tab for the drugs, by up to half. Even so, the program’s spending will likely continue to rise, in part because of strong demand.

Medicare’s stunning outlays, spelled out in data requested from the government by ProPublica, raise troubling questions about how the taxpayer-funded program can afford not only these pricey medications, but a slew of others coming on the market. Continue reading


Parents in poor countries have worry about vaccines, too: If they can get them for their children


Globe 125X125The Republican presidential debates have fueled another round of vaccine anxiety in the U.S. But in the world’s poorest countries, parents have a different set of concerns: They worry about getting their kids immunized quickly enough.


Ouch! Vaccination rates for older adults falling short


Vaccine SquareBy Phil Galewitz

Three out of four Americans older than 60 don’t get a shingles vaccine to protect themselves from the virus’ miseries: rashes over the face and body, stinging pain that can last for weeks or months and the threat of blindness.

Sometimes people must feel a pound of pain – someone else’s – to take a shot of prevention. Dr. Robert Wergin tells of one elderly patient with shingles who came to his Milford, Neb., office this summer. “I’m sorry, doc, I should have listened to your advice to get the shot,” the man said. A few weeks later, the man’s wife and brother, both in their 60s, visited Wergin, asking for the vaccine.

One in three seniors each year skips the flu vaccine.
Four in 10 seniors are not vaccinated for pneumonia.
Nearly half of seniors are not immunized for tetanus

“It’s amazing how once people see the disease up close, getting the vaccine suddenly raises up on their list of priorities,” said Wergin, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The shingles vaccine is not the only shot that public health officials are struggling to persuade older Americans to get. Continue reading


Vaccine rates leave many Washington toddlers at risk


Alert IconFrom Washington State Department of Health

New immunization rates show many toddlers across the state aren’t getting vaccinated for certain diseases on time, if at all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Immunization Survey.

The trend means more children are at risk of getting measles, whooping cough, or other preventable diseases.

The trend means more children are at risk of getting measles, whooping cough, or other preventable diseases.

The annual survey reports that children between 19 and 35 months of age weren’t any more protected against serious and potentially fatal diseases than the year before. About 67 percent of toddlers in 2014 were fully vaccinated by 3 years of age.

This overall rate is about 3 percent lower than 2013, but statistically the two rates are not significantly different.Washington’s immunization rates for 2014 did not improve for most recommended vaccines for young children.

The lone exception was the dose of hepatitis B vaccine given at birth. Coverage rates for the hepatitis B birth dose vaccine exceeded national coverage rates, increasing to almost 80 percent.

“The data show that we’re not protecting all of our kids as well as we should,” said State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. “We’re disappointed that our rates aren’t higher. When kids aren’t fully protected, it puts those kids and the wider community at risk of disease. The recent spike in measles cases and the ongoing whooping cough outbreak highlights the need for high vaccination rates.” Continue reading


Seattle Children’s discovers lapse in sterilization at Bellevue clinic | Patients may need to be tested for Hep. B, C, HIV – Bellevue Reporter


Seattle Children's Whale LogoSeattle Children’s Hospital is working with the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control after it was revealed that the required procedures for cleaning and sterilizing surgical instruments at the hospital’s Bellevue Clinic and Surgery Center were not always followed.

“I understand that families will be concerned, and rightly so, but from a scientific perspective, the risk is low, which I hope that families find reassuring,’ Seattle and King County Public Health official Justin Duchin, M.D. said at a press conference on August 26.

As a result of the problems with sterilization, patients who had a surgical procedure at the Bellevue Clinic may need to be tested for hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV, the hospital said in a statement.

Source: Seattle Children’s discovers lapse in sterilization at Bellevue clinic | Patients may need to be tested for Hep. B, C, HIV – Bellevue Reporter


Washington state kindergarten vaccination rate below target goal


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.



Travel smart: get vaccinated – CDC


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.

Continue reading


U.S. prescription drug spending rose 13 percent in 2014: IMS report | Reuters


Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleU.S. spending on prescription medicines jumped 13 percent to $374 billion in 2014, the biggest percentage increase since 2001, as demand surged for expensive new breakthrough hepatitis C treatments, a report released on Tuesday showed.

Demand for newer cancer and multiple sclerosis treatments, price increases on branded medicines, particularly insulin products for diabetes, and the entry of few new generic versions of big-selling drugs also contributed to the double-digit spending rise in 2014, the report by IMS Health Holdings Inc found.

via U.S. prescription drug spending rose 13 percent in 2014: IMS report | Reuters.


The Cost of a Cure: Medicare Spent $4.5 Billion on New Hepatitis C Drugs Last Year


Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Charles Ornstein

This story was co-published with the Washington Post.

Medicare spent $4.5 billion last year on new, pricey medications that cure the liver disease hepatitis C 2014 more than 15 times what it spent the year before on older treatments for the disease, previously undisclosed federal data shows.

The extraordinary outlays for these breakthrough drugs, which can cost $1,000 a day or more, will be borne largely by federal taxpayers, who pay for most of Medicare’s prescription drug program.

The most-discussed of the new drugs, Sovaldi, which costs $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment, accounted for more than $3 billion of the spending.

But the expenditures will also mean higher deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket costs for many of the program’s 39 million seniors and disabled enrollees, who pay a smaller share of its cost, experts and federal officials said.

The spending dwarfs the approximately $286 million that the program, known as Part D, spent on earlier-generation hepatitis C drugs in 2013, said Sean Cavanugh, director of Medicare and deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The most-discussed of the new drugs, Sovaldi, which costs $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment, accounted for more than $3 billion of the spending. Spending on another drug, Harvoni, hit $670 million even though it only came on the market only in October. Bills for a third drug, Olysio, often taken in conjunction with Sovaldi, reached $821 million.

Medicare also spent $157 million on older hepatitis C drugs in 2014, bringing the total spending for the category to more than $4.7 billion.

The spending surge is unlike anything Part D has seen. The nine-year-old program has benefited in recent years from a slowdown in prescription drug costs as several blockbusters, including the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor and the blood thinner Plavix, have lost patent protection and have faced competition from generics. Continue reading