Today's News and Commentary

About medical devices

3D bioprinting of collagen to rebuild components of the human heart: This article is a fascinating look at the use of collagen in 3D bio printing. It raises many possibilities for replacements of body parts other than for the heart.

About healthcare IT

NIST guidance aims to help providers secure IoT tools: As previously reported, peripheral devices (“Internet of Things” or IoT) have major security concerns. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued guidance aims to address these potential problems. This article summarizes the suggestions. For more information, check the NIST/IoT website.

Anthem, Humana along with Apple and Google testing API for patient access to claims data: As previously reported, CMS is launching a new version of its Blue Button link that will enable beneficiaries to check on their claims. The private equivalent also announced this functionality; it comes from the CARIN Alliance, “led by distinguished risk-bearing providers, payers, consumers, pharmaceutical companies, consumer platform companies, health IT companies, and consumer-advocates who are working collaboratively with other stakeholders in government to overcome barriers in advancing consumer-directed exchange across the U.S.” The lead management is from Leavitt Partners.

About the public’s health

Teens Are Getting Hooked on Leftover Prescription Meds: This article summarizes two studies published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “…the first one involved more than 18,000 high school seniors. It found that about 11% of them said they misused prescription drugs in the past year, and of those, 44% had multiple sources for the drugs.More than 70% of teens who got prescription drugs from multiple sources had a substance use disorder -- prescription medications, other drugs and alcohol -- within the previous year.”

“The second study, involving nearly 104,000 12- to 17-year-olds, found that the most common sources of prescription drugs were: getting them free from friends and relatives, physician prescriptions for opioids, and buying stimulants and tranquilizers illegally.”

Natural American Spirit's pro-environment packaging and perceptions of reduced-harm cigarettes: Public perception about two brands of cigarettes (both manufactured by Reynolds American) were assessed. Natural American Spirit [NAS] has pro-environmental packaging and Pall Mall does not. “Consistently on all measures, NAS cigarettes were rated as less harmful for oneself, others, and the environment relative to Pall Mall (p's < .001). Though Reynolds American manufactures both brands, participants rated the company behind NAS as more socially responsible than the company behind Pall Mall.” Authors concluded: “Stricter government regulations on the use of pro-environment terms in marketing that imply modified risk is needed.”

De Blasio Administration Launches NYC Care in the Bronx, Key Component of Mayor's Guaranteed Health Care Commitment: As previously reported, NY City announced it would provide “quality and affordable health care for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are not eligible for insurance or who cannot afford it.” Last week, the first program was launched in the Bronx and will offer residents “access to a dedicated primary care provider, …preventive care and routine screenings, …access to specialty care services, [the ability to] make appointments and navigate their health care needs through a new 24/7 customer service center. New Yorkers will also get access to affordable medications day or night.”

About health insurance

Cigna Plans Big Medicare Advantage Expansion: This article is another example of how Medicare Advantage is continuing to expand. “…the insurer plans to enter 37 new counties with such HMO offerings for what executives said will be a 14% increase in the company’s Medicare Advantage footprint, pending regulatory approvals.”

Financial Costs and Burden Related to Decisions for Breast Cancer Surgery: We often think that the costs of care mainly affect poor, minority and uninsured patients. In this study, most of the subjects “were white (90%), were insured privately (70%) or by Medicare (25%), were college educated (78%), and reported household incomes of more than $74,000 (56%).” Researchers found that among “the highest incomes, 65% of women were fiscally unprepared, reporting higher-than-expected (26%) treatment costs.”
The costs of care need to be discussed with all patients regardless of their perceived ability to afford treatment.

Charity becomes a lifeline even for Americans with health insurance as deductibles soar: Continuing the theme of costs of care, this article is a great summary of how families are coping with these expenses by seeking charitable subsidies from a variety of sources. The problem is often that they are underinsured and need help meeting the rising annual out-or-pocket expenses, particularly deductibles.

The Use Of Vendors In Medicare Part B Drug Payment: The Medicare Part B drug benefit pays physicians 6% over average national sales price. Thus, revenue can be maximized by administering the most expensive effective medications. The pricing scheme is the only mechanism Medicare has for controlling Part B expenditures. Part D, on the other hand, is handled by private companies which have a variety of non-price mechanisms for controlling costs, e.g., step therapy, prior authorization, etc. This article is a nice summary of how the federal government is looking at adopting Part D procedures to control Part B expenses.

Military Health Systems: This topic is the subject of a special issue of Health Affairs (Most articles require a subscription).

About pharma

Johnson & Johnson scores latest talc trial win as case count reaches 15,500: This article is the latest update in legal proceedings against J&J for damages alleged to have occurred from asbestos in its talc-based baby powder.

Drugmakers master rolling out their own generics to stifle competition: This story provides another example of how pharma brands can effectively extend their patents by producing their own generics.

Potential Medicare Savings From Generic Substitution and Therapeutic Interchange of ACE Inhibitors and Angiotensin-II-Receptor Blockers [ARBs]: ACE inhibitors (ACEIs) and ARBs are equally effective, for example, to lower blood pressure. Because ACEIs were on the market first, they are all generic. These authors found that by “maximizing generic substitution and therapeutic interchange, Medicare could have saved approximately $676 million (89.6%) in 2016 and 2017 of the total $754 million spent on these brand-name ACEIs and ARBs during those 2 years ($537 million in 2016 and $203 million in 2017),excluding possible manufacturer rebates.” Imagine what such a program could save for other classes of medications.

About healthcare quality and patient safety

CMS delays funding renewal for quality improvement organizations: “The 13 quality improvement organizations that are part of CMS' Quality Innovation Network are halting operations and laying off staff as they wait for the agency to renew their multimillion-dollar contract. The $960 million contract, which ended in mid-July, wasn't renewed and won't be until sometime between September and November, according to a CMS memo to the organizations last month.”