KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Negotiating Drug Prices Works For The VA — But That May Be Because Of Its Defined Population

News outlets report on stories related to pharmaceutical drug pricing.

Stat: The VA Got A Good Price For A Hep C Drug. Why Not Medicare?
As President Trump tweets yet another promise to lower drug prices, a new analysis offers an example of what can happen when the federal government negotiates with manufacturers. During a 12-month period ended November 2015, the Veterans Choice Program, which was created by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, paid a median price of $12,500 for a month’s supply of Harvoni, a hepatitis C drug sold by Gilead Sciences. Since most patients typically are treated for two to three months, the cost was closer to $25,000 to $37,500 per person, according to the analysis in Medical Care. (Silverman, 3/7)

Bloomberg: Gilead Executive Says Pharmacy Benefit Managers Keep Prices High
Gilead Sciences Inc.’s hepatitis C cure set off a firestorm of criticism over high drug prices in 2014 that hasn’t let up since. Now an executive says the company can’t cut the product’s price because middlemen who manage drug benefits would refuse to cover it. ... Pharmacy benefit managers such as Express Scripts Holding Co. and CVS Health Corp. negotiate drug reimbursement, often in secrecy, for employers and health plans. While PBMs say they deliver lower prices for customers and patients, drugmakers have begun aggressively implicating the middlemen in high medication costs that have become a frequent target of Washington lawmakers and President Donald Trump. (Chen and Langreth, 3/3)

The Hill: Top Oversight Dem To Meet With Trump About Prescription Drug Prices
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) will meet President Trump at the White House on Wednesday to discuss lowering prescription drug prices, an issue the top House Oversight Committee Democrat has long advocated for. The White House gathering comes shortly after Trump claimed that Cummings canceled a meeting last month because of partisan politics. (Marcos, 3/7)

Kaiser Health News: Three Key Senators Ask GAO To Investigate Possible Abuses Of The Orphan Drug Act
Building on weeks of mounting pressure to address high prescription drug prices, three influential U.S. senators have asked the government’s accountability arm to investigate potential abuses of the Orphan Drug Act. In a March 3 letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) raised the possibility that regulatory or legislative changes might be needed “to preserve the intent of this vital law” that gives drugmakers lucrative incentives to develop drugs for rare diseases. (Tribble and Lupkin, 3/7)

Stat: More States Weigh Making It Easier To Sell EpiPen Alternatives
In the wake of the controversy over EpiPen pricing, lawmakers in several states are introducing bills that would allow pharmacists to substitute alternatives for the pricey allergic-reaction device without requiring a new prescription from a physician. The latest example was introduced last week in Ohio, where pharmacists are currently prohibited from making any substitutions for the device. Similar legislation was introduced in recent weeks in New York and Vermont, and last fall in New Jersey. A somewhat comparable was also introduced in Hawaii. (Silverman, 3/6)

Stat: How A Biotech Billionaire Used A Donation To Boost His Business
For months, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong would continue to reap praise for his generosity in publicity put out by the university. Not mentioned in any of the tributes: $10 million of his donation would be sent right back to one of his companies. And the contract for his gift was worded in a way that left the University of Utah with no other choice. The university health system did get free and valuable information for genetics research through the deal. But a STAT investigation has found that Soon-Shiong benefited even more from his charitable donation. He got reams of patient data to help him build a new commercial product meant to assess patients’ risk of rare and inherited diseases. He got a stream of cash for one of his struggling companies. (Robbins, 3/6)

Bloomberg: Marathon's $89,000 Drug May Exploit Patients, Senators Say 
Marathon Pharmaceuticals LLC is facing more criticism over the $89,000 price tag on its drug for a rare muscle disorder as a group of eight U.S. lawmakers said they’re concerned that it “exploits” patients. In a March 3 letter to Marathon Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Aronin, seven Democratic U.S. senators and one independent demanded information on the closely held drugmaker’s pricing practices and product development costs for Emflaza, used to treat lethal Duchenne muscular dystrophy. (Greifeld, 3/6)

Stat: Genentech Hits A Sour Note With Gwen Stefani Concert For Reps
When Genentech sales reps gathered in late January in Las Vegas for their national sales meeting, they were rewarded with a treat — Gwen Stefani, the popular singer, performed for the crowd, according to photos posted online. It remains unclear what she was paid for her show at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. A Genentech spokeswoman declined to comment, as did Stefani’s booking agent. However, Stefani has commanded upwards of $350,000 to perform at private events, according to data from Celebrity Talent International that was cited in a Business Insider story in 2014. (Silverman, 3/7)

The Fiscal Times: How Drug Companies Are Scrambling To Respond To Pressure Over Soaring Prices
President Donald Trump used his speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night to renew his call to contain soaring prescription drug prices. His demand comes as the pharmaceutical industry launches a public relations campaign aimed at reducing public anger and the threat of increased regulation. Trump, who once complained that the pharmaceutical industry is “getting away with murder” by overcharging consumers and government agencies, said that his administration and Congress must “work to bring down the artificially high price of drugs and bring them down immediately.” (Pianin, 3/1)

Stat: Who You Calling ‘Slow’? FDA May Bristle At Trump’s Latest Dig
hen President Trump criticized the Food and Drug Administration drug approval process as “slow and burdensome” on Tuesday, you may have heard a mysterious noise. And that noise may have been the sound of thousands of agency staffers banging their heads against the wall. FDA officials have long bristled at the notion that they move too slowly to approve new drugs. Part of their job, after all, is to ensure that any drugs they approve are both safe and effective — and that, they point out, can take time. The standard review process now takes a median of 10 months, down from nearly 13 months in 2005, according to the FDA. Companies can shrink that process to eight months if they get a priority review. (Kaplan, 3/1)

The Motley Fool: How Are Drug Prices Determined?
A lot goes into getting a drug into a patient's hands, but the complexity of the distribution channel is only one reason why drug prices are high. As drugs get increasingly intricate, they're becoming more costly to develop, and that has an impact on prices, too. How can you determine if a drug price is fair? (Campbell and Harjes, 3/5)

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