Today's News and Commentary

About pharma

What do you do with expired or left over drugs (like opioids you no longer need for pain control)? Now Google has a national map to help you find a safe place for these medications.

Here is the site

Estimating the clinical cost of drug development for orphan versus non-orphan drugs: Orphan drugs (defined as having a limited application for a small patient population) get a number of protections in order to spur development. However, according to this research, they cost less to develop than their non-orphan counterparts. “The capitalized clinical costs per approved orphan drug and non-orphan drug were estimated to be $291 million and $412 million respectively.” Should health policy/law adjust for such differentials? What about a guaranteed profit margin (as was the case with the polio vaccine)?

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FDA head says federal government may take action if states don't adjust lax vaccine exemption laws: In the wake of the measles outbreak, some states have cut back or eliminated exemptions from vaccination. Still, “in 47 states, parents are exempted from vaccinating their children for religious reasons.” FDA head Scott Gottlieb, MD says the federal government will step in if states don’t tighten up on their policies.

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The fighter, the saint, and the odd man out: the executives who will defend pharma before Congress: This article profiles the seven pharma executives who will testify before the Senate Finance Committee next week. It is a fascinating read into a “who’s who” in this sector.

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Pfizer, Merck, J&J well-positioned for M&A and Biogen and BioMarin are prime targets: report: This article is a nice summary of a Morningstar report on what the pharma M&A activity might be this year and next.

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About medical devices

Abbott’s HBV Surface Antigen Test Earns CE Mark: Although the approval only applies to the EU, it can have very helpful public health implications in the US. People who go to walk-in, free clinics to check for STDs and HIV status can be lost to followup when tests are not provided on site. This 15 minute point of care test can capture more of those patients who can wait for the results.

Read the announcement

About insurance

CMS Improperly Paid Millions of Dollars for Skilled Nursing Facility Services When the Medicare 3-Day Inpatient Hospital Stay Requirement Was Not Met: Based on a sample of skilled nursing facilities (SNF) billing, the CMS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) estimates the agency erroneously paid $84 million over a 2 year period. The facilities billed for patients who were not hospitalized for 3 days prior to their stays. Many stakeholders have argued against this 3-day rule. In response, CMS will allow Accountable Care Organizations who apply for and are granted a waiver to circumvent this requirement. Medicare Advantage plans have always been free to admit patient directly to SNFs.

Read the OIG report

About the public’s health

Travel and Wait Times Are Longest for Health Care Services and Result in an Annual Opportunity Cost of $89 Billion: This report from Altarum found that wait times for healthcare services have not decreased over the past decade. Further, the actual encounter and waiting times are longer than any other service. The figure in the headline is an estimate of the opportunity cost of the waits and travel times for healthcare.

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Annual HHS Report: Prior to HHS Secretary Azar’s speech today about HHS activities and plans, the DHHS issued its annual report. There are too many items to even summarize but it is at least worth reading the executive summary.

Read the executive summary