In a collaboration between The Philadelphia Inquirer and Kaiser Health News, Harris Meyer looks at the case of colchicine, a drug used to treat gout that has been on the market so long that it predates the FDA approval process, and thus had never been approved.
Like thousands of drugs it existed in a sort of grandfathered generic state. That ended in 2009 when URL Pharma earned FDA approval for a branded version of the drug, which it sells for 50 times more per pill than the generic.
The drug company convinced the FDA that its version was safer than the generic, a claim disputed by many physicians. Now, Meyer reports, it’s likely that the generic colchicine will be forced from the market over the coming months, driving customers of the centuries-old drug (a natural version was first mentioned by the ancient Greeks) into the arms of URL Pharma. According to Meyer, the case is just one of several that have resulted from post-2006 FDA efforts to gain control and approval over all those grandfathered-in unregulated drugs.
Kaiser Health News’ Jordan Rau reports that, even if current health care proposals (Rau focuses on the House bill) were to pass, the resulting coverage would still fall short of universal and affordable, with many families slipping through the cracks and facing medical expenditures every bit as onerous as those they face today. Rau carefully picks through the coverage and points out the biggest holes, explaining how they arose and identifying the relevant trade-offs and contributing factors.
Under the House proposal, people receiving government subsidies could still end up spending 20 percent or more of their annual incomes on premiums, deductibles and co-insurance, according to estimates prepared by the House Committee on Ways and Means and obtained by Kaiser Health News. That financial load could grow substantially if the proposal’s financing — $1 trillion over a decade — is pared back as congressional leaders come under pressure to reduce the legislation’s costs.
Maralee Schwartz, a Shorenstein Center Fellow at Harvard University, has written a report titled “Getting It for Free: When Foundations Provide the News on Health.” (35-page PDF)
She points out that using stories produced by nonprofit foundations “raises questions that go to the heart of the journalistic enterprise and its role in American democracy: Does the very availability of content about a pet issue of a particular foundation mean that coverage will be skewed? Does nonprofit journalism mean lower standards? How does a newspaper safeguard integrity and independence?”
The report also looks at the economic challenges that editors are facing, including the results of a survey AHCJ and the Kaiser Family Foundation did in March.
Schwartz, formerly a political reporter and editor at The Washington Post, takes a close look at Kaiser Health News. Schwartz also writes about efforts in various states to create nonprofit organizations to do health reporting, including the Center for California Health Care Journalism, which first partnered with the Merced Sun Star for a project. Other similar projects include the Kansas Health Institute News Service and Health News Florida.
The report includes interviews with reporters and editors at the nonprofit organizations and at newspapers that have used their work, including AHCJ board member Karl Stark.
Schwartz concludes that “Most of the experts interviewed expressed hope that this trend can be supported. They also agreed that objections about the dilution of independence and journalistic standards can be addressed by developing odes of conduct, for lack of a better phrase, so that both editors and readers can have confidence in the work produced by Kaiser or ProPublica, or a variety of other nonprofits.”