KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Costly Specialty Drugs Drive Up Medicare Tab

ProPublica and The New York Times look at the explosive spending growth from an obscure medication for treating multiple sclerosis and a rare kidney disease -- and how several top prescribers have links to drugmaker, Questcor Pharmaceuticals. The Wall Street Journal examines the impact of new drugs to treat hepatitis C. 

ProPublica/The New York Times’ The Upshot: The Obscure Drug With A Growing Medicare Tab
An obscure injectable medication made from pigs’ pituitary glands has surged up the list of drugs that cost Medicare the most money, taking a growing bite out of the program’s resources. Medicare’s tab for the medication, H.P. Acthar Gel, jumped twentyfold from 2008 to 2012, reaching $141.5 million, according to Medicare prescribing data requested by ProPublica. The bill for 2013 is likely to be even higher, exceeding $220 million. Acthar’s explosive growth illustrates how Medicare’s prescription drug program — perhaps more than private health insurers and even other public health programs — is struggling to contain the taxpayer burden of expensive therapies aimed at rare conditions (Ornstein, 8/4).

ProPublica/The New York Times’ The Upshot: Top Medicare Prescribers For Acthar Have Links To Its Maker
Many of Medicare’s top prescribers of the expensive specialty drug H.P. Acthar Gel have financial ties to the drug’s maker. Only 18 practitioners wrote 15 or more prescriptions for the drug in 2012. At least nine — and all of the top four — were promotional speakers, researchers or consultants for Questcor Pharmaceuticals, a ProPublica analysis shows (Ornstein, 8/4).

The Wall Street Journal’s Pharmalot: What Will The New Hepatitis C Medicines Do To Medicare Part D?
In the latest salvo fired over the cost of hepatitis C treatments, a new report projects that the cost of these drugs – including the Sovaldi medication sold by Gilead Sciences – will increase 2015 federal spending by Medicare Part D between $2.9 billion to $5.8 billion (Silverman, 8/4).

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