Weekend update

Congress remains out of town until after Labor Day.

Modern Healthcare has listed the 100 most influential people in healthcare for 2015.  The Chief Justice tops the list, followed by the President. The FEHBlog was astonished by the fact that the IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and the Labor Secretary Tom Perez are not listed. Of course the HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and the CMS Administrator are listed but the HHS Secretary, the IRS Commissioner and the Labor Secretary are the Three Musketeers of the Affordable Care Act. Independent of the ACA, taxes affect everything and so do labor regulations. For example, on Friday, the DC Circuit upheld the Labor Department’s new protections for home healthcare workers. But quibbles aside, it’s fun to look the chart over.

Speaking of influence, a Wall Street Journal article on pricing pressure that the U.S. and China are placing on the prescription drug industry. To illustrate the U.S. aspect of the story, the Journal’s reporter linked to an earlier story about research into the cost effectiveness of cancer therapies. The Financial Express identifies other approaches under development or already released:

The NCCN, an alliance of 26 cancer centers, envisions the new tool as a supplement to its widely followed guidelines for oncology care, which set out protocols for treating a range of cancers based on diagnosis, disease stage and other factors, such as age.

Other medical groups are also trying to address the cost issue, but not as directly as the NCCN. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is developing its own tool for valuing treatments, but says that its “net health benefit” scores will not consider costs, although prices will be noted alongside the scores. In June, New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center launched an interactive calculator, called “DrugAbacus,” that allows users to decide how much one of 54 newer drugs should cost based on factors like side effects and novelty.  {previously noted by yours truly.]

The NCCN scale, to be launched in mid-October, will employ “evidence blocks” that assign a score of up to five points for each of five measures – price, effectiveness, safety, quality and consistency of clinical data. Initially, it will evaluate drugs used for multiple myeloma and chronic myeloid leukemia. Similar guidelines are expected for most other types of cancer by the end of 2016.

Here are a couple of other articles that caught the FEHBlog’s eye over the weekend:

  •  Kaiser Health News reports that “In one of the largest population studies on pain to date, researchers with the National Institutes of Health estimate that nearly 40 million Americans experience severe pain and more than 25 million have pain every day.” American needs more doctors who specialize in treating pain. 
  • MedPage proactively asks whether people can deliberately lower their risk of Alzheimers’ disease. In the FEHBlog’s view it’s worth a shot.