From today’s Boston Globe: Partners and Trump, health costs and another expensive drug

STAT News reports that Partners Healthcare CEO Dr. David Torchiana was among the health care executive who met with President-elect Donald Trump Wenesday. 

Torchiana has been among those arguing that repeal of the law could disrupt millions of families who have relied upon it for insurance coverage.

“De-insuring 20 million people, many of whom were probably Trump vPHS_Logooters, is a pretty difficult thing to do politically,” Torchiana said in November, according to the Boston Globe. “Figuring out what the pathway is to altering the ACA and doing so in a way that actually doesn’t increase the cost of health care is pretty difficult. There’s not a simple policy solution to it.”

Torchiana did not reveal what he said about the Affordable Care Act to Trump. Partners spokesman Rich Copp told STAT that Torchiana was invited by the president-elect. “They had a conversation that touched on a wide range of health care policy issues, including affordability, access, quality and biomedical research,” Copp said.

$370,000 drug

Also,  Adam Vacaro of the buiness section reports that Biogen Inc.’s new drug “to treat a rare  genetic disorder in children will be priced at about $375,000 a year per patient — its most expensive medicine ever — the Cambridge biotech company said Wednesday.”

File_000Worth noting that drug companies were once so reluctant to make drugs for rare disease that Congress had to pass The Orphan Drug Act to entice them. It seems that now they just charge a lot of them.  Could it be that these rare diseases the low-hanging fruit for the developers of biologics?

Worth revisiting former Globe reporter Steve Heuser’s 2009 piece on how Genzyme sought out patients around the world with a rare condition and convinced governments to pay the full-price for the drug–  $160,000 a year.

Jose Gonzalez felt indescribably lucky that his little girl, wasting away beneath hibiscus vines in Central America, had been found. But for Genzyme, it wasn’t luck. It was another step in a remarkable business strategy: In countries from Colombia to Taiwan to Libya, the Cambridge firm has compiled an extraordinary track record of searching out patients like Tania, providing desperately needed treatment, and then successfully pressing their governments, even poor ones, to pay full price for the most expensive drugs in the world.

That strategy has helped Genzyme bring in more than $1 billion a year on Cerezyme alone, and to develop an arsenal of similarly expensive drugs for other rare diseases. And Costa Rica would soon learn a lot about Genzyme’s determination to be paid when it considered the cost of saving Tania Gonzalez, how it would drain resources from other patients, and decided that its answer was “no.”…

What (Genzyme)  won’t do is offer a discount. Although discounts are becoming more common on pharmaceuticals sold in lower-income countries, Genzyme follows a “full price or free” model, and works hard to be sure it’s the former.

“If you’re going to give on the price someplace, everyone’s going to ask for a deal, and then you’ve got a massive mess – so from day one, it was one price,” said Alison Taunton-Rigby, a former Genzyme executive who was with the company when it began setting its price policy.

Geoff McDonough, current head of the division that sells Cerezyme, says the policy allows the company to maintain the profit margin needed to research future drugs, while also keeping a door open for the truly impoverished.

“We’ve chosen a way here that’s been consistent across the company, and has met the specific needs and complexities of patients suffering from very rare diseases,” he said.

It is a balancing act, he says, that amounts to an “extreme example” of a discounting policy: the company currently provides the drug free to more than 300 patients worldwide.

Back to Partners, this time on costs

 letter from BU’s Alan Sager on the many confusing interpretations of health that is health care costs in Massachusetts:

David Torchiana,  president and CEO of Partners HealthCare, once again has recited Commonwealth Fund analyses of federal survey data showing that Massachusetts health insurance premiums are a lower share of median income than prevails nationally (“First, do no harm”).

But federal data on actual health spending contradict Torchiana. Massachusetts health spending per person was 36 percent above the US average, the highest in the world. After deducting Medicare and Medicaid dollars, private Massachusetts health costs per person were 40 percent above the US average, an excess of $11 billion over national average costs. Meanwhile, median income here was only 20 percent above the US average.

 

 

 

Boston Globe: Sachs, Angell, weigh in on health care reform

Jeffrey  Sachs of  Columbia University is not a health care guy; he’s a big picture guy. One in  a series of lengthy columns in The Boston Globe offered this:

captureOBAMACARE INCREASED health care coverage but did not solve the crisis of sky-high prices, and may well have exacerbated it by adding government subsidies into a system marked by pervasive market power and lack of competition.

I therefore recommend the following policies to address America’s urgent health care crisis.

First, as I’ve suggested in previous articles in this series, America should adopt policies to reduce income inequalities, end the over-incarceration of the poor, empower workers, clean and green the environment, and raise the social status of working-class families. Over time, such measures would help to reverse the epidemics of drug abuse, mental illness, obesity, and other diseases exacerbated by poverty and low social status.

Second, America should move toward universal health care coverage through public financing, as in Canada and Europe, with health providers (both private and not-for-profit) supplying coverage on the basis of capitation rather than fee-for-service. Capitation would encourage and enable health providers to offer supportive services (nutrition counseling, social support, health advising) that help to prevent, treat, and manage chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and adult-onset diabetes.

Third, the government should move to a system of price ceilings for medicines under patent through rational guidelines that balance the incentives for R&D with drug affordability and access. Economists have long argued that today’s patent law does not do an adequate job of balancing the needed incentives for innovation with the assurance of access to affordable medicines. The situation became intolerable after the advent of Medicare Part D, with the government now spending vast sums for drugs and drug companies grossly abusing the system by setting outrageous markups on the cost of production.

None of this is a dream or a utopian vision. These reforms would simply put the United States on the path toward improved health care coverage, affordability, and outcomes already enjoyed by the citizens of Canada, Japan, and many countries in Europe.

To which Dr. Marcia Angell, a former NEJM editor vocal critic of health care profiteering, had this to say:

JEFFREY D. SACHS has written an excellent overview of what makes the American health system so inadequate, inequitable, and expensive, compared with other advanced countries, and he recommends some important reforms. But one of them — paying providers a set yearly amount for each patient covered (capitation), instead of paying on a fee-for-service basis — would not work in this country, because, unlike other countries, our providers are largely for-profit (or behave that way).

Can #Massachusetts tame #health #spending with transparency and oversight?

Stuart Altman, the Brandeis University healthcare economist who has advised presidents from Nixon to Obama, talked to Health Leaders last week. He is capturenow  the head of the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, which tracks total health spending statewide.  

HLM: How is Massachusetts trying to address high costs?

Altman: First of all, it is the only state that has recognized that it should be involved in total state spending. Some other states that are closer are Vermont and Maryland. But the Massachusetts state government is really acknowledging that it has responsibility for not only what it spends on Medicaid, but that it should be concerned with total spending.

Full story at Health Leaders. 

Are two big #hospital groups better than one? #consolidation

At Wednesday’s meeting, the  Massachusetts Health Policy Commission heard a staff report on the proposed merger of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Capture

From the report. AMC= academic medical center

 In summary, we find that these transactions are anticipated to increase market concentration, solidify BIDCO’s position as the second largest hospital network in the state, and could strengthen BIDCO’s ability to leverage higher prices and other favorable contract terms. However, BIDCO’s market share will remain far smaller than the dominant system in the state for most services.

Member of the commission pondered the impact of having two large hospital systems, instead of just one giant one — Partners. Their conclusion — no one really knows, but it would be worth finding out.  We’ll see where that goes.

From the Globe:

“… commissioners noted that the growth of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Care Organization, or BIDCO, could be a good thing. BIDCO is a network of affiliated doctors and hospitals that negotiates contracts with insurers and gives its members set budgets under which to manage patient care.

“To me, big is not necessarily bad,” said Marylou Sudders, the state secretary of health and human services, who sits on the commission. “Shouldn’t Massachusetts have… a strong competitor to what is the largest and most expensive health system?”

The commission said that by adding MetroWest and the Baptist to its network, BIDCO will solidify its place as the state’s second largest provider network. But it will remain much smaller than Partners, with about 13 percent of all hospital discharges, compared to 29 percent for Partners.

 

The persistence of low-value services

CaptureAnalysis from Health Leaders Media:

Turns out, it’s not so easy to make wise choices about healthcare. Several new studies find that, even with urging, doctors and patients are having a hard time passing on low-value services, including many identified in the Choosing Wisely campaign.  

Not that it should be a surprise. You don’t need an MD to know that change is difficult.

The specialty societies of the Choosing Wisely campaign have offered up a menu of low-value services they suggest patients can live (well) without. The trick is to convince providers and patients to abandon superfluous old-reliables and “might-as-well” tests. They waste money and can do more harm than good.

Somehow, the message isn’t getting through…

And this release today on the ACOG meeting mentioned in the story:


Breast Cancer Screening Conference Addressed Mammography Guidelines

Washington, DC – More than 50 stakeholders in women’s health convened on the 28th and 29th of January, 2016, at the headquarters of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) to discuss recommendations on mammography for breast cancer screening. Participants reviewed current data and provided perspective on the interpretation of the data and resultant recommendations for breast cancer screening.

 

The primary issues addressed at this conference included when screening should be initiated, how frequently mammography should be performed, and if there is a point in a women’s life at which mammographic screening may no longer be beneficial. Although clearly important, other aspects of breast cancer screening – including the role of clinical breast exam and screening for high-risk women or those with dense breasts – were determined to be beyond the scope of this conference.

 

Participants in the conference included representatives from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), the American Cancer Society, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), the American College of Radiology, the American College of Surgeons, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, and ACOG. In addition, representatives from more than 22 other organizations representing women’s health care providers, radiologists, patient advocate organizations, and allied women’s health professional communities participated in the conference. Furthermore, patient representatives also provided valuable input.

 

The participants will continue the efforts at addressing breast cancer screening recommendations. It is hoped that the outcome of these conversations will help to improve informed decision-making among women and their health care providers.

 

 

 

 

 

Lown Institute seek trainees’ stories of dangerous “medical overuse”

From Lown:

The first author must be a trainee who is a professional student, intern, resident, fellow, masters or doctoral student, or post-doctoral student.logo

More here

 We are seeking clinical vignettes written by trainees that describe harm or near harm caused by medical overuse. In particular, we want to hear about medical interventions that are commonly performed and seem acceptable, rather than errors or obvious malpractice.

Applications should include a clinical vignette that provides an engaging story with pertinent clinical and historical findings. Vignettes must also include a succinct summary of the clinical issues that describes the evidence for medical overuse and suggests an alternative approach going forward.

The top two vignettes will be eligible for scholarships to participate in the fourth annual Lown Institute Conference, April 16-17, 2016 in Chicago. 

Health care in Massachusetts: Affordable or not?

Not affordable: From this week’s paper

Rising health care costs have outpaced the incomes of Massachusetts families over the past decade, despite efforts by the state to control medical expenses, according to a report released Wednesday.

Affordable: Two weeks ago.

Despite concerns about rising health care costs, the head of the state’s largest and most expensive network of doctors and hospitals said Thursday that health care is “very affordable” in Massachusetts.partners

Partners HealthCare chief executive Dr. David Torchiana, in remarks to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that health care costs are higher here than in other parts of the country, largely because Massachusetts is home to several large teaching hospitals whose training and research programs make them expensive to run.

But considering the high incomes in Massachusetts, it’s not so bad, Torchiana said: “Health care is very affordable in Massachusetts.”

To help make sense of this and other health policy debates, check out the latest Health Wonk Review.

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