KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

full issue

Wasted Cancer Medicines Cost Medicare, Insurers $3 Billion Each Year: Study

Cancer researchers say that typical drug vials hold too much medication for most patients and that the rest is thrown away. In other pharmaceutical news, The Wall Street Journal reports on how supplements can interfere with prescription drugs while Bloomberg profiles a Gilead executive tackling the high cost of its hepatitis C treatment.

The New York Times: Waste In Cancer Drugs Costs $3 Billion A Year, A Study Says
The federal Medicare program and private health insurers waste nearly $3 billion every year buying cancer medicines that are thrown out because many drug makers distribute the drugs only in vials that hold too much for most patients, a group of cancer researchers has found. The expensive drugs are usually injected by nurses working in doctors’ offices and hospitals who carefully measure the amount needed for a particular patient and then, because of safety concerns, discard the rest. (Harris, 3/1)

The Wall Street Journal: How Your Supplements Interact With Prescription Drugs
As millions of Americans consume over-the-counter herbal and botanical supplements in a bid to boost health, there is increasing evidence that these products can interfere with a wide range of prescription medications used to treat everything from cancer to depression to high blood pressure. Recent studies have found that a greater number of supplements than previously thought may affect the way certain enzymes in the body metabolize drugs. Some supplements may inhibit the enzymes’ ability to break down a drug and clear it from the body, causing medication to build up to potentially toxic levels and even cause overdose. Other supplements may increase the rate at which a drug is broken down, clearing it from the body too quickly to be effective. (Landro, 2/29)

Bloomberg: His Job Is To Sell A $1,000 Pill For $10 Without Losing Money
Gregg Alton has what seems like a disorienting job at Gilead Sciences Inc. He’s paid to figure out how to sell the drug Sovaldi, which infamously retails in the U.S. at $1,000 a pill, for relatively next to nothing. The instructions for pricing the cure, which wipes out hepatitis C in just 12 weeks, basically go like this: “Get to as many patients as possible in low-income nations --and not lose money,” Alton says. “It’s very simple.” (Chen, 2/29)

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