Tag Archives: Pharmaceuticals

Seeking to contain costs for six protected drug classes, CMS faces wide opposition

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Image by Amanda M Hatfield via flickr.

Image by Amanda M Hatfield via flickr.

Patient care advocates, drug companies, and both Republicans and Democrats are arguing against a proposal from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to eliminate protections for certain classes of drugs, including those for depression and schizophrenia.

Reporting on the proposal last week, Katie Thomas and Robert Pear wrote in The New York Times, “Opponents warn that the proposal, if enacted, could harm patients. Federal officials say it would lower costs and reduce overuse of the drugs.”

CMS estimates that the proposal will reduce overuse of some drugs and result in cost savings of $720 million by 2019, according to an AP article by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar.

Opponents say the proposal could result in increased hospital and physician services if patients can no longer get or afford the medications in six classes of drugs: anticonvulsants, antidepressants, antineoplastics, antipsychotics, antiretrovirals and immunosuppressants. Antidepressants and immunosuppresants would lose protected status in 2015 and antipsychotics would lose it in 2016. The other three classes (anticonvulsants, antineoplastics and antiretrovirals) would continue to be protected in 2015 pending further review by CMS, the proposal said. Continue reading

New data has some good news on use of antipsychotic drugs

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Antipsychotic drugs are used less often and patient-centered treatment for behavioral health, including dementia, is on the rise, according to new July data available on the CMS Nursing Home Compare website.

The agency said its efforts to reduce antipsychotic use in nursing homes by 15 percent by the end of the year seem to be working. In 2010, CMS data showed that at least 17 percent of nursing home residents received antipsychotic drugs exceeding recommended levels. CMS launched The National Partnership to Improve Dementia Care in 2012 to address this issue. Continue reading

Drugs remain on market despite fraudulent research; FDA withholds information

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Despite concluding that a drug research lab’s violations “were so ‘egregious,’ and pervasive that studies conducted there between April 2005 and August 2009 might be worthless,” the FDA didn’t pull the drugs tested there from the market, according to a ProPublica piece by Rob Garver and Charles Seife.


Photo by Grumpy-Puddin via Flickr

The FDA is refusing to release information about those drugs, saying that “We believe that this did not rise to the level where the public should be notified.”

A statement from the agency said, “The issue is not a lack of transparency but rather the difficulty of explaining why the problems we identified at Cetero, which on their face would appear to be highly significant in terms of patient risk, fortunately were not.” Continue reading

LA Times: While board investigates, doctors’ ‘reckless prescribing’ kills

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

By zeroing in on one particular type of dangerous physician behavior, known as “reckless prescribing,” Los Angeles Times reporters Lisa Girion and Scott Glover were able to draw a powerful link between the state medical board’s inaction and patient death in an investigation titled “Dying for Relief.”

For the piece, reporters reviewed state medical board records and coroner’s files, assembling evidence that “At least 30 patients in Southern California have died of drug overdoses or related causes while their doctors were under investigation for reckless prescribing. The board ultimately sanctioned all but one of those 12 doctors, and some were criminally charged – too late to prevent the deaths.”

For its part, the board has been hit hard by state budget cuts and, the reporters write, is hamstrung because “Unlike medical regulators in other states, it cannot suspend a doctor’s license or prescribing privileges on its own, even to prevent imminent harm.” The resulting lack of oversight has led to pervasive overprescribing and uneven enforcement. For more details and a powerful narrative hook, I strongly recommend reviewing the paper’s brilliantly produced online package.

Health care watchdog agency provides ideas for stories in coming year

Len Bruzzese

About Len Bruzzese

Len Bruzzese is the executive director of AHCJ and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. He also is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and served for nearly 20 years in daily journalism.

The HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) has unveiled its FY 2013 OIG Work Plan , a blueprint for the watchdog agency’s work in the upcoming year and beyond.OIG 2013 Outlook Webcast at oig.hhs.gov

For enterprising health care reporters, this publication is like a catalog of story ideas, featuring hundreds of summaries of OIG’s upcoming reports, descriptions of its investigative and legal work, plus an overview of guidance it provides to the health care provider community.  Topics of upcoming reports include same-day hospital readmissions, oversight of poorly performing nursing homes, and FDA’s process for investigational new drug applications.

Also, on Oct. 24, OIG will launch its OIG Outlook 2013 webcast.  The free online event will include OIG’s senior leadership discussing emerging trends in combating fraud, waste and abuse in federal health care programs, OIG’s top priorities for 2013, and upcoming projects outlined in the Work Plan.

OIG’s mission is to protect the integrity of HHS’s 300+ programs – including Medicare and Medicaid – and the well-being of beneficiaries by conducting audits, evaluations, and investigations; providing guidance to the health care industry; and imposing civil monetary penalties, assessments and administrative sanctions.

Reporter tracks top prescribers’ ties to drugs they prescribe

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

A while back, Sen. Charles Grassley wrote to state health officials, asking for lists of top Medicaid prescribers of certain drugs. When her state released its, Lisa Chedekel of the Connecticut Health Investigative Team took it and ran with it, using all manner of public data to assemble a portrait of Connecticut’s prolific prescribers and the conflicts of interest that may drive them.

Speaking of conflicts of interest, Chedekel found that 43 of the 108 high prescribers (some broke into the top 10 for multiple drugs) earned money, meals or other benefits from the very companies whose drugs they were subscribing in such large quantities. She profiles a number of these physicians, but my personal favorite is one whose records show a curious correlation:

Dr. Kathleen Degen of Norwich was not among the top prescribers of Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa in 2008, but was the seventh-highest prescriber in 2009 (with 255 prescriptions), when Eli Lilly paid her $24,950 in speaking fees. Her prescribing fell off slightly in 2010, and she received $5,291 from Eli Lilly for speaking and travel. She disappeared from the high prescriber list in 2011 and received just $16 in meals from Eli Lilly, records show.

To better understand the problems that could arise from situations like these, Chedekel talked with academics, as well as a number of physicians named in the story. She also took a look at the drugs themselves, many of which Grassley had selected due to their controversial nature. The piece is a blueprint for reporting state-by-state on similar lists. The story also aired on Fox Connecticut.