July 11, 2019 | Congress ramps up action to lower drug prices

July 11, 2019

Industry News

Congress ramps up action to lower drug prices

Legislators on both sides of the aisle are preparing legislation to address high drug prices and eliminate surprise billing—and want to show voters they’re able to pass meaningful legislation. Bills to stop out-of-network consumer charges are moving quickly through committees in both chambers, although some say the remedy proposed would violate the “takings” clause in the Constitution. In the House, a bill on tap would allow Medicare to directly negotiate prescription drug prices under Part D, although senate Republicans are opposed to the plan; a different bill instituting rebates if medication price inflation surpasses certain thresholds is also on the table. Both parties want to limit out-of-pocket co-pays for Medicare drugs, too. (ABC News; Los Angeles Times)

NIH leader says “no” to all-male conference rosters

Frances S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, will no longer speak at conferences that don’t include women presenters, a move designed to stop the tradition of all-male conference panels and speaker rosters. Collins also challenged other scientific leaders to do the same, although he stopped short of requiring a quota or asking other NIH scientists to do fall in line. (The New York Times)

Innovation & Transformation

Employers taking the wheel to manage growing costs

With rising costs rather than increased utilization driving an expected 6% growth rate for health plan coverage, employers are actively taking steps to help employees access affordable care—especially since a third of consumers with employer-based care can’t afford to pay their deductible. According to PwC Health Research Institute’s annual report on medical trends, some 38% of large employers are investing in worksite clinics for primary care. Employers are also nudging people towards telehealth, lower-cost clinics and imaging centers, as well as home-based infusion medication therapy. (Managed Healthcare Executive; PWC report)

Relax, new moms, and gain 82 extra minutes of sleep a day

Nursing mothers who listen to recordings designed to help them relax produce more breast milk and enjoy more sleep, a new study finds. According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, study participants had lower levels of stress cortisol in their milk and their babies slept an average of 82 minutes a day longer than infants in the control group. After three months, they consumed about 8 ounces more milk per day, too. (Reuters)

Consumers & Providers

Newly-minted docs remain unlikely to choose primary care

Only 41.5% of primary care residency program slots were filled in 2019 by U.S.-trained medical students, the lowest percentage on record. And for the first time, the number of osteopathic and foreign-trained physicians filling those slots surpassed U.S.-trained medical doctors. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of between 21,100 and 55,200 primary care physicians by 2032. Lower salaries for primary care physicians compared to what their specialist colleagues earn and frustration with electronic medical records are factors in the decline. (Salon)

EHR fine-tuning needed to avoid pediatric drug prescribing errors

Patients don’t all come in one size, but electronic health record systems are generally geared to treating adults. Recommended medication prescribing that’s built into EHRs can introduce serious and potentially deadly patient safety issues, according to research from the Pew Charitable Trust. In 12 case examples, new research highlights specific challenges for EHR users around confusing information display, difficult data entry, inefficiently communicating whether a patient already is on medications, and trouble sharing information and tasks with others on the team. (Health Data Management)

New & Noted

Trump promises “favored nations” clause for drugs: On Friday, President Donald Trump said he is preparing an executive order that would lower prices the government pays for drugs by introducing a “favored nations” clause. The move would mean the government pays no more for pharmaceuticals than the lowest price on the market that other nations pay. (The Wall Street Journal; Bloomberg)

Record-breaking malpractice award: A Baltimore jury decided Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center was liable for brain damage an infant suffered during birth and awarded her family a record-breaking $229 million for what was deemed a medical error. State law caps malpractice awards at $200 million, and the verdict will likely be appealed. (Baltimore Sun)

New policy chief named: The Department of Health and Human Services announced that Paul Mango will serve in a new position, as deputy chief of staff for policy. Mango ran unsuccessfully for the governor’s seat in Pennsylvania and previously served as chief of staff at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (Reading Eagle)

Multi-media

Tapering off opioids gets short shrift from physicians

Opioids like morphine, OxyContin and fentanyl cost pennies a pill and are easy to prescribe, but when it comes to tapering off pain medications, physicians are of little help, according to bioethicist Travis Rieder. In a new book, Rieder unveils his personal struggle getting off opioid pain killers after a motorcycle accident resulted in numerous surgeries for his crushed foot. Even his pain management team declined to help, he says. “They would not speak with me, and the message they sent through a nurse was, 'We prescribe opioids, but we don't help with tapering.’” (National Public Radio)

MarketVoices...quotes worth reading

“I don’t think people realize how involved electronic medical records are. You have to synthesize everything and coordinate all of the care. And something that I see with the residents in our program is that the time spent on electronic medical records rather than caring for patients frustrates them.”—Dr. Eric Hsieh, the internal medicine residency program director at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, in Salon.

Jorden Gunessever