Tagged Health Industry

Declining Opioid Prescription Rates Show That Drumbeat Of Alarm Over Crisis Is Producing Results

But some advocates are now worried that patients with chronic pain are being undertreated. Meanwhile, NIH wants to conduct research on fentanyl, but the nationwide law-enforcement crackdown on opioid abuse means scientists are having a hard time getting permission to get samples of the illegal products they need to study. And the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on improving Medicaid, Medicare and other programs that cope with the effects of substance abuse.

Growth Of Prescription Drugs Spending Slowing, But That Won’t Necessarily Be Reflected For Consumers

“We’re not suggesting that nobody is seeing higher costs,” said Murray Aitken, of the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, which released the numbers. “We’re just saying that when we roll everything up, the amount received by manufacturers rose by only 0.6 percent in 2017.”

Technology That Can Turn Ordinary Skin Cells Into Eggs Or Sperm Is A Lot Closer To Reality Than Science Fiction

Scientists have already seen results in mice, and envision the technology as life-changing for couples who struggle with infertility. But the tech would raise a whole host of ethical conundrums. In other public health news: blood pressure, falling, nuts, face transplants, hypertension, and vaccines.

Federal Appeals Court Puts Chill On Maryland Law To Fight Drug Price-Gouging

States continue to battle budget-busting prices of prescription drugs. But a federal court decision could limit the weapons available to them — underscoring the challenge states face as they, in the absence of federal action, go one-on-one against the powerful drug industry.

The 2-to-1 ruling Friday by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated a Maryland law meant to limit “price-gouging” by makers of generic drugs. The measure was inspired by cases such as that of former Turing Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli, who raised one generic’s price 5,000 percent after buying the company.

The law, which had been hailed as a model for other states, is one of a number of state initiatives designed to combat rapidly rising drug prices. It gave the state attorney general power to intervene if a generic or off-patent drug’s price increased by 50 percent or more in a single year.

If dissatisfied with the company’s justification, the attorney general could have filed suit in state court. Manufacturers would have faced a fine of up to $10,000 and potentially have to reverse the price hike. The generics industry was fiercely critical of the law.

“We are evaluating all options with regard to next steps,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh in a statement. His office would not elaborate further.

The state could appeal to have the case heard “en banc,” meaning by the full 4th Circuit, with jurisdiction over five states.

Such appeals aren’t commonly granted, but this law could be a strong candidate, suggested Aaron Kesselheim, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who researches drug-price regulation.

The Friday ruling looms large as other state legislatures grapple with ever-climbing drug prices.

Similar price-gouging legislation has been introduced in at least 13 states this year, though none of those measures became law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Three other bills failed to gain passage.

The NCSL also cited the law in a March advisory for states seeking new approaches to regulating drug prices.

The court’s finding could have a chilling effect on such efforts, especially as more state legislatures wrap up business for 2018.

“A negative court ruling will put a damper or a pause on state activities,” said Richard Cauchi, NCSL’s health program director. “Unless this topic is your No. 1 priority of the year, your legislators are juggling multiple bills, multiple strategies. When bill three gets in trouble, they move to bill four.”

The appeals court held that Maryland’s law overstepped limits on how states can regulate commerce — specifically, a constitutional ban on states controlling business that takes place outside their borders. The majority ruling argues that since most generics manufacturers and drug wholesalers engage in trade outside Maryland, the state cannot control what prices they charge.

In a dissenting opinion, the panel’s third judge argued Maryland can regulate the drug prices charged within the state since the law is meant to affect only medications being sold to its own residents.

Kesselheim, in an article published last month in the journal JAMA, argued a similar point.

Regardless, striking down a law on constitutional grounds can be particularly discouraging, suggested Rachel Sachs, an associate law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who researches drug regulations.

“If it had been a rejection on vagueness grounds, that’s something you can cure with a more specific statute,” she said. “But the fact that they said this is unconstitutional poses real concern for other states.”

That’s important. While the federal government has talked a big game on bringing down drug prices, it has done little. Instead, states have taken the lead — spurred by the budget squeeze pricey prescriptions impose on their Medicaid programs and on state employee benefits packages.

But states have far fewer tools at their disposal than does Congress. Most state laws so far tackle only pieces of the problem — targeting a specific drug or particular practice, experts said.

“We’ll get more broad and better evolution on this issue if the federal government decides to take it seriously — which it hasn’t so far,” Kesselheim said.

To be fair, Maryland’s law is only one of a bevy of approaches.

Other states have focused on price transparency laws. In California, drug companies must disclose in advance if a price might increase by more than a set percent and that they justify the increase. Industry has sued to block the California law.

New York has limited what the state will pay for drugs, establishing a process to review if expensive drugs are priced out of step with their medical value.

A number of states have since 2017 passed laws regulating pharmacy benefit managers — the contractors who negotiate discounted drug coverage for insurance plans, but who rarely reveal what level of discount they actually pass on to consumers.

Experts expect that activity to continue, especially as escalating drug prices show little sign of letting up.

“The states are going to keep trying and experimenting,” Sachs added. “This is a problem that isn’t going away.”

Even efforts such as Maryland’s — which targeted price-gouging — will likely remain at the forefront.

“I don’t think this is the end of states trying to do something on price-gouging,” said Ellen Albritton, a senior policy analyst at the left-leaning advocacy group Families USA who consults with states on drug-pricing policy. “It’s such an issue that offends people’s sensibilities. It’s crazy people can do this.”

Law Regulating Noise Level Outside Health Facilities Upheld After Supreme Court Rejects Case

The case focused on an anti-abortion activist who was told to lower his voice while protesting outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Maine. Meanwhile, a ban to block protesters within an 8-foot radius of health clinics was defeated, and Pennsylvania’s House sends a Down syndrome abortion ban to the state Senate.

It Can Be ‘Next To Impossible’ To Find Nursing Facilities That Will Accept Patients Recovering From Opioid Addiction

Legal experts say that nursing facilities rejecting patients on addiction medication violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, yet an investigation finds that it’s a common practice. In more news on the crisis: medical groups are advocating for a new reimbursement model of physicians who treat opioid patients; researchers find that organ transplants from overdose victims fare as well as from traditional donors; West Virginia reaches a settlement with a pharmacy over its distributing practices; and more.

Congressional Advisers Urge Medicare Payments To Many Stand-Alone ERs Be Cut

The woman arrived at the emergency department gasping for air, her severe emphysema causing such shortness of breath that the physician who examined her put her on a ventilator immediately to help her breathe.

The patient lived across the street from the emergency department in suburban Denver, said Dr. David Friedenson, who cared for her that day a few years ago. The facility wasn’t physically located at a hospital but was affiliated with North Suburban Medical Center several miles away.

Free-standing emergency departments have been cropping up in recent years and now number more than 500, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), which reports to Congress. Often touted as more convenient, less crowded alternatives to hospitals, they often attract suburban walk-in patients with good insurance whose medical problems are less acute than those who visit an emergency room located in a hospital.

If a recent MedPAC proposal is adopted, however, some providers predict that these free-standing facilities could become scarcer. Propelling the effort are concerns that MedPAC’s payment for services at these facilities is higher than it should be since the patients who visit them are sometimes not as severely injured or ill as those at on-campus facilities.

The proposal would reduce Medicare payment rates by 30 percent for some services at hospital-affiliated free-standing emergency departments that are located within 6 miles of an on-campus hospital emergency department.

“There has been a growth in free-standing emergency departments in urban areas that does not seem to be addressing any particular access need for emergency care,” said James Mathews, executive director of MedPAC. The convenience of a neighborhood emergency department may even induce demand, he said, calling it an “if you build it, they will come” effect.

Emergency care is more expensive than a visit to a primary care doctor or urgent care center, in part because emergency departments have to be on standby 24/7, with expensive equipment and personnel ready to handle serious car accidents, gunshot wounds and other trauma cases. Even though free-standing emergency departments have lower standby costs than hospital-based facilities, they typically receive the same Medicare rate for emergency services. The Medicare “facility fee” payments, which include some ancillary lab and imaging services but not reimbursement to physicians, are designed to help defray hospitals’ overhead costs.

The proposal would affect only payments for Medicare beneficiaries. But private insurers often consider Medicare payment policies when setting their rules.

According to a MedPAC analysis of five markets — Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Dallas; Denver; and Jacksonville, Fla. — 75 percent of the free-standing facilities were located within 6 miles of a hospital with an emergency department. The average drive time to the nearest hospital was 10 minutes.

Overall, the number of outpatient emergency department visits by Medicare beneficiaries increased 13.6 percent per capita from 2010 to 2015, compared with a 3.5 percent growth in physician visits, according to MedPAC. (The reported data doesn’t distinguish between conventional and free-standing emergency facility visits.)

“I think [the MedPAC proposal] is a move in the right direction,” said Dr. Renee Hsia, a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at the University of California-San Francisco who has written about free-standing emergency departments. “We have to understand there are limited resources, and the fixed costs for stand-alone EDs are lower.”

Hospital representatives say the proposal could cause some free-standing emergency departments to close their doors.

“We are deeply concerned that MedPAC’s recommendation has the potential to reduce patient access to care, particularly in vulnerable communities, following a year in which hospital EDs responded to record-setting natural disasters and flu infections,” Joanna Hiatt Kim, vice president for payment policy at the American Hospital Association, said in a statement.

Independent free-standing emergency departments that are not affiliated with a hospital would not be affected by the MedPAC proposal. These facilities, which make up about a third of all free-standing emergency facilities, aren’t clinically integrated with a hospital and can’t participate in the Medicare program.

The MedPAC proposal will be included in the group’s report to Congress in June.

Even though stand-alone emergency facilities might not routinely treat patients with serious trauma, they can provide lifesaving care, proponents say.

Friedenson said that for his emphysema patient, avoiding the 15- to 20-minute drive to the main hospital made a critical difference.

“By stopping at our emergency department, I truly think her life was saved,” he said.

Congressional Advisers Urge Medicare Payments To Many Stand-Alone ERs Be Cut

The woman arrived at the emergency department gasping for air, her severe emphysema causing such shortness of breath that the physician who examined her put her on a ventilator immediately to help her breathe.

The patient lived across the street from the emergency department in suburban Denver, said Dr. David Friedenson, who cared for her that day a few years ago. The facility wasn’t physically located at a hospital but was affiliated with North Suburban Medical Center several miles away.

Free-standing emergency departments have been cropping up in recent years and now number more than 500, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), which reports to Congress. Often touted as more convenient, less crowded alternatives to hospitals, they often attract suburban walk-in patients with good insurance whose medical problems are less acute than those who visit an emergency room located in a hospital.

If a recent MedPAC proposal is adopted, however, some providers predict that these free-standing facilities could become scarcer. Propelling the effort are concerns that MedPAC’s payment for services at these facilities is higher than it should be since the patients who visit them are sometimes not as severely injured or ill as those at on-campus facilities.

The proposal would reduce Medicare payment rates by 30 percent for some services at hospital-affiliated free-standing emergency departments that are located within 6 miles of an on-campus hospital emergency department.

“There has been a growth in free-standing emergency departments in urban areas that does not seem to be addressing any particular access need for emergency care,” said James Mathews, executive director of MedPAC. The convenience of a neighborhood emergency department may even induce demand, he said, calling it an “if you build it, they will come” effect.

Emergency care is more expensive than a visit to a primary care doctor or urgent care center, in part because emergency departments have to be on standby 24/7, with expensive equipment and personnel ready to handle serious car accidents, gunshot wounds and other trauma cases. Even though free-standing emergency departments have lower standby costs than hospital-based facilities, they typically receive the same Medicare rate for emergency services. The Medicare “facility fee” payments, which include some ancillary lab and imaging services but not reimbursement to physicians, are designed to help defray hospitals’ overhead costs.

The proposal would affect only payments for Medicare beneficiaries. But private insurers often consider Medicare payment policies when setting their rules.

According to a MedPAC analysis of five markets — Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Dallas; Denver; and Jacksonville, Fla. — 75 percent of the free-standing facilities were located within 6 miles of a hospital with an emergency department. The average drive time to the nearest hospital was 10 minutes.

Overall, the number of outpatient emergency department visits by Medicare beneficiaries increased 13.6 percent per capita from 2010 to 2015, compared with a 3.5 percent growth in physician visits, according to MedPAC. (The reported data doesn’t distinguish between conventional and free-standing emergency facility visits.)

“I think [the MedPAC proposal] is a move in the right direction,” said Dr. Renee Hsia, a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at the University of California-San Francisco who has written about free-standing emergency departments. “We have to understand there are limited resources, and the fixed costs for stand-alone EDs are lower.”

Hospital representatives say the proposal could cause some free-standing emergency departments to close their doors.

“We are deeply concerned that MedPAC’s recommendation has the potential to reduce patient access to care, particularly in vulnerable communities, following a year in which hospital EDs responded to record-setting natural disasters and flu infections,” Joanna Hiatt Kim, vice president for payment policy at the American Hospital Association, said in a statement.

Independent free-standing emergency departments that are not affiliated with a hospital would not be affected by the MedPAC proposal. These facilities, which make up about a third of all free-standing emergency facilities, aren’t clinically integrated with a hospital and can’t participate in the Medicare program.

The MedPAC proposal will be included in the group’s report to Congress in June.

Even though stand-alone emergency facilities might not routinely treat patients with serious trauma, they can provide lifesaving care, proponents say.

Friedenson said that for his emphysema patient, avoiding the 15- to 20-minute drive to the main hospital made a critical difference.

“By stopping at our emergency department, I truly think her life was saved,” he said.

Older Americans Without Adult Children Need To Be Proactive In Creating Aging Plans, Experts Say

There’s a growing population of older adults without children having to navigate getting older and the pitfalls that come with it. But it can be done successfully, experts say. In other aging news: the financial toll of dementia, older patients who have been living with HIV, positive perceptions about aging, and more.

Older Americans Without Adult Children Need To Be Proactive In Creating Aging Plans, Experts Say

There’s a growing population of older adults without children having to navigate getting older and the pitfalls that come with it. But it can be done successfully, experts say. In other aging news: the financial toll of dementia, older patients who have been living with HIV, positive perceptions about aging, and more.

Genetic Testing Is A Hot New Benefit For Employees, But Researchers Say It Might Do More Harm Than Good

Experts caution that extending use of the tests to the broader population may lead some people of average risk to forgo recommended screenings or, on the flip side, lead to unnecessary and extreme medical procedures. In other public health news: a smart gun, drug-resistant typhoid, viruses, hypertension, the dangers of sitting, bright lights for hospital patients, and more.