Today's News and Commentary

About healthcare IT

Google’s cancer-spotting AI outperforms radiologists in reading lung CT scans: Using the Google AI application, “researchers were able to detect 5% more cancer cases while reducing false-positives by more than 11% compared to the findings of unassisted radiologists.” I assume the final report will be available quicker as well.

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About pharma

Baltimore sues J&J for spinning up a 'sham' Zytiga patent to fend off generics: Pharma manufacturers employ a variety of techniques to extend their patent protection. Congress and states have looked at ways to attack these processes and others that keep prices high. This case is unusual because a city is suing.

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Lilly to insulin pricing critics: Check out our 50%-off Humalog copy instead: In response the the rapidly rising costs of insulin, Lilly had promised a generic to its Humalog. It is now available. At 50% off the branded version it lists for $137.35 per vial or $265.20 for a five-pack of pens.

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How Does Prescription Drug Spending and Use Compare Across Large Employer Plans, Medicare Part D, and Medicaid?: This study from the Kaiser Family Foundation analyzes drug spending for 2017 (its most recent year). Among the the findings:
—Private health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid accounted for 82% of total retail prescription drug spending in the U.S. in 2017, while patients paid 14% of the total as out-of-pocket payments.
—For spending on specific drug products, the top five drug products with the highest total spending alone account for at least 10% of total prescription drug spending in large employer plans, Medicare Part D, and Medicaid.
—Antidiabetic agents, antivirals and psychotherapeutics are among the top therapeutic classes by total spending in large employer plans, Medicare Part D, and Medicaid.

Lots more to read there.

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Hearing on “Improving Drug Price Transparency and Lowering Prices for American Consumers”—House Committee on Energy & Commerce:You can view the testimony delivered yesterday on a number of bills to enhance transparency and lower costs of drugs. One of those testifying was Kristin Bass, the chief policy and external affairs officer for the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA). She opined that drug rebate amounts should be reported in aggregate rather than by individual company. The reason for her statement is that in categories with few drugs, such firm-specific information might signal price increases rather than decreases. In other words, imagine two companies with products in a therapeutic class. If one finds out the other has lower rebates it will lower its own, leading to higher consumer prices.

View the testimony

About health insurance

Medicare Advantage Plans Outperforms Fee-For-Service Medicare Plans in Caring for Dual-Eligible Beneficiaries with Chronic Conditions: Dual eligibles have both Medicare and Medicaid coverage. They are usually both older and sicker than other population segments. To assess whether Medicare Advantage (MA) plans or traditional Medicare fee for service (FFS) provides better care for this population, Avalere sampled files of 2.7 million beneficiaries. The research found that: “ MA outperformed FFS Medicare on overall cost of care (16.7% higher in FFS), quality measure outcomes, and utilization of high cost health services such as inpatient and emergency room visits when it came to caring for dual eligible beneficiaries with chronic conditions. Dual eligible beneficiaries experienced significantly lower rates of complications, avoidable hospitalizations and readmissions, and received more preventative care services compared to dual eligible FFS Medicare beneficiaries. These findings suggest that MA plan flexibility to provide additional benefits and coordinate care results in better outcomes and lower costs for Medicare.”

For more details, read the report

Providers, insurers parse what they could support—and what they won't—in surprise billing solution: The House Ways and Means Committee held hearings yesterday from a variety of stakeholders on protections for patients from surprise billing, e.g., when a patient goes to a hospital with an emergency and gets a large bill from a physician who is not contracted with his or her insurance plan. All agreed the practice should be addressed so that patients are removed from the middle. But solutions were all over the map. Someone needs to sit down and propose a bill, like what is being done with drug prices and transparency. It can then be voted up or down.

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View the hearing (About 2 hours)

About the public’s health

Thermal Stabilization of Viral Vaccines in Low-Cost Sugar Films: This research should be the health story of the week (or maybe longer). Often vaccines need refrigeration or at least a very stable, moderate temperature, to be transported without loss of effectiveness. But delivery to such countries as those in sub-Saharan Africa pose a special problem. The technique explained in the article provides a low-cost answer to this issue, allowing vaccines to be transported without refrigeration or loss of potency even for 2-3 months at 40 degrees C (depending on the vaccine).

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U.S. states, cities sue to block Trump 'conscience' rule for healthcare workers: Today’s most reported story across media is the lawsuit led by NY Attorney General Letitia James on behalf of two dozen U.S. states and municipalities. These governments are suing the Trump administration over the previously reported “conscience rule” that would allow providers to refuse care based on their religious and other beliefs.

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United States Government Global Health Security Strategy 2019: This document was published last week and is far-reaching in its desire to link this country with the global health environment. Its stated Vision is: “The United States, in close cooperation with its international partners, prevents, detects, and responds to infectious disease threats at home and abroad, whether naturally occur- ring, unintentional, or deliberate.”

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Natural compound found in broccoli reawakens the function of potent tumor suppressor: Yes, eating broccoli is good for you. “A new study demonstrates that targeting the gene, known as WWP1, with the ingredient found in broccoli suppressed tumor growth in cancer-prone lab animals.”

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Millennial Healthcare Preferences Are A Departure From The Status Quo: This study from Transamerica is an interesting look at different generational preferences and attitudes regarding healthcare, with a focus on millennials. For example: “One in five Millennials (21 percent) are not satisfied with the quality of the healthcare system they have access to—a dissatisfaction that has increased each year since 2016. “

Read the study