Today's News and Commentary

State of the Union

The President’s message last night had several references to healthcare related issues. He:
Called for increased funding for childhood cancer ($500 million over the next 10 years);
Proposed increase funding to eliminate HIV transmission;
Requested that health care entities increase price transparency to lower costs- especially in the pharma sector;
Reinforced his desire to eliminate“late term abortions;”
Expressed pride for eliminating the individual insurance mandate;
Stressed the importance of making sure insurance companies did not discriminate based on pre-existing conditions; and
Expressed pride in passage of the “Right to Try” law, which gives patients the ability to access non-FDA approved medications in cases where other treatments are not working.
Except for the funding of the first two initiatives, he did not offer any details about how goals would be pursued.
However, HHS Secretary Azar followed up with some details about the HIV reduction plans that include:
Identifying "geographic hotspots;"
Augmenting  existing programs, (like the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program); and
Initiating new programs through community health centers that will increase access to screening and  PrEP prophylaxis medication.

Absent from the speech was the public health issue of gun violence, which Stacey Abrams addressed in the Democratic reply.

By the way, don’t forget to consult the fact checker in the Washington Post

About the public’s health

New disease surveillance tool helps detect any human virus: If a virus has a low concentration in blood samples, it can be difficult to diagnose a disease or carrier state. This new technique allows selective “catching” of genomic information to make earlier detection possible. “Short for ‘Compact Aggregation of Targets for Comprehensive Hybridization,’ CATCH allows users to design custom sets of probes to capture genetic material of any combination of microbial species, including viruses or even all forms of all viruses known to infect humans.”

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Younger than 100? Soon, you might not be able to smoke cigarettes in Hawaii: Hawaii was the first state to increase the legal age for smoking to twenty one. Now legislators are talking about gradually increasing this age by decades over the next few years until, in 2024, it reaches 100. Imagine a new ad campaign for “Senior Smokes?”

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Making OxyContin 'Tamper Proof' Helped Spread Hepatitis C: File this one under the law of unintended consequences. Given the opioid crisis, makers of OxyContin made the formulation harder to abuse. As a result, addicts have turned to using heroin and sharing their needles. This practice has caused a surge in Hepatitis C and HIV infections. Now we have another problem to fix.

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About pharma

Bipartisan group of lawmakers introduces bill to fight high drug prices: One way branded drug manufacturers slow generic companies from entering the market is by delays in providing them with the patented drug for FDA-required comparison studies. Senators on both sides of the aisle have recognized this problem and are promoting legislation to make it easier to obtain reference samples.

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Democrats bat away Trump's olive branch on drug pricing: Republicans have proposed several measures to control rising drug prices, including direct negotiation with pharma companies and indexing tied to prices in other countries. Democrats are skeptical about how serious their opponents are about these measures so they are offering some of their own. This article is a nice summary of where the two parties stand on this issue.

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OnYourRxSide: Continuing the theme of high drug prices, Pharmaceutical Benefit Managers (PBMs) launched an ad campaign to inform the public about how much value they deliver by making sure prices stay low. Recall that PBMs are the ones who get pharma company rebates.

Take a look at their site and make up your mind if you are convinced by the message.

Flip the Script: Drugmakers Blame Middlemen for Price Increases: One more on this topic. Pharma manufacturers have claimed they need higher prices to cover increasing costs of R&D to come up with new and better medications. Now they are changing their story. The real (?) reason for the increases, they claim, is the higher PBM and payer demands for rebates. Everyone seems to be pointing fingers at one another. Is there a free-market solution or does the federal government need to get involved?

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About healthcare IT

Google Tries to Patent Healthcare Deep Learning, EHR Analytics: The patent application is titled
”System and method for predicting and summarizing medical events from electronic health records.” It takes longitudinal EHR data and applies “deep learning” to predict healthcare events. Sounds like IBM’s Watson might have some competition.

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Read what else Google’s “Deep Mind” is doing