KHN Morning Briefing

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FDA Approval Of New Hep C Drug Could Help Curb Sky-High Costs

Merck has not listed the price of the drug yet, but the extra option could help bring down prices on the expensive treatments. In California, Gilead's hepatitis C drug Sovaldi has cost the state $387.5 million. But a ballot initiative to limit the high price of prescription drugs will let voters weigh in on this issue this November.

The Associated Press: FDA OKs Merck Hepatitis C Drug, Adding To Patient Choices
Patients with hepatitis C have yet another advanced treatment option, as the Food on Drug Administration has approved a new once-a-day pill developed by drugmaker Merck. The FDA said Thursday Merck can begin marketing Zepatier, its new drug for patients with the liver-destroying virus. The combination pill includes the medications elbasvir and grazoprevir, which attack the virus in two different ways. (1/28)

NPR: California Pays Insurers Millions More For Hepatitis C Drugs
Private health plans invoiced the state of California $387.5 million to cover high-cost hepatitis C treatments in Medi-Cal between July 2014 and November 2015, when just 3,624 patients received the treatments, according to the California Department of Health Care Services. The state's supplemental payments started after managed care plans that cover health services for almost 80 percent of Medi-Cal recipients raised "alarm" about the high cost of the new drugs. The hepatitis C treatments were eating into financial reserves, said Charles Bacchi, president of the California Association of Health Plans, an industry trade group. (Bartolone, 1/28)

Kaiser Health News: California Voters Will Have Their Say On Drug Prices
California voters will weigh in this November on a high-stakes ballot proposition intended to help control the cost of prescription drugs – the latest attempt to limit soaring prices that have prompted public criticism nationwide. The proposition would require the state to drive a harder bargain with drug companies so it doesn’t pay more for medications than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The initiative would affect about 5 million people whose health care is covered by the state, proponents said. (Gorman, 1/29)

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton blasts Valeant Pharmaceuticals —

Reuters: Clinton Targets Valeant Price Hikes In Campaign Appearance
Shares of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc fell on Thursday after the campaign of Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton posted a blog from an Iowa event detailing exorbitant price hikes for a migraine drug made by the company. At an Iowa town hall over the weekend, Clinton read from a letter saying that the list price for 10 vials of migraine drug D.H.E. 45 had increased to more than $14,000 in December, compared with just over $3,000 in June of 2014. "This is predatory pricing. It is unjustified. It is wrong," Clinton said, according to the post. (Beasley, 1/28)

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