Tuesday Tidbits

Just to catch up, the Senate is in session this week while the House of Representatives is not. Tomorrow afternoon, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on Sylvia Mathews Burwell’s nomination to serve as HHS Secretary.

A couple of tidbits on healthcare costs:

  • Kaiser Health News reports on a recent Harvard research study concluding that “at least one in four Medicare beneficiaries received one of 26 “low-value” services during 2009, and possibly significantly more.”  The researchers suggested the use of bundled payments for care rather than fee for service would reduce the provision of low value services. The FEHBlog has been hearing about this “solution” for about 20 years. It’s time for the healer to heal him/herself.
  • BNA reports on conference discussions about Sovald, the Hepatitis C pill, and other expensive specialty drugs. A research chemist friend told me the other day that Solvadi is a small molecule drug. The article notes that according to a Liverpool University pharmacist Gilead’s drug could be mass produced in large quantities at a cost of no more than $136 per 12 week course.  Here’s a link to Hill’s projections from hepmag.com.  Gilead set the price, according to the BNA article, based on the cost of an avoided liver transplant ($84,000 for a 12 week course of treatment). The FEHBlog recognizes that price and cost are independent variables, but this is highway robbery. 
Let’s end this post on a high note. The Wall Street Journal reports that the National Institutes of Health have developed a new approach to cancer treatment that 

represents the blueprint for making immunotherapy available to treat common cancers,” said Steven A. Rosenberg, chief of the Surgery Branch at the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research and senior author of the study. “We’ve figured out a way to target what is absolutely unique on each cancer. That is the mutations that make the cancer a cancer.” But the method devised by Dr. Rosenberg and his colleagues is complex. It involves sophisticated genetic sequencing and analysis and aggressive treatments to destroy a patient’s immune system before replacing it using cell therapy with one that recognizes the cancer. 

Oncology is being transformed on two major fronts: on the one hand, new drugs that target specific genetic mutations responsible for tumor growth, and on the other hand, immunotherapies. But for the most part, these strategies have been moving forward on parallel tracks. The new approach combines both approaches.