Yesterday the Senate passed by a 94-1 margin a bill to combat opioid abuse. The Washington Post reports that 

The legislation would establish grant programs to help state and local governments improve education and treatment for drug abuse, encourage medical providers to reduce unnecessary prescriptions, commit resources to help veterans deal with addiction, and give local law enforcement and mental health officials tools to lower the death rate from overdoses. A key provision would provide states with incentives to make naloxone, which can counteract overdoses, more widely available by offering liability protections to officials who distribute it. The bill’s fate in the House remains unclear.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services unveiled “a public data set that provides information on services provided to Medicare beneficiaries by skilled nursing facilities (SNFs).  The Skilled Nursing Facility Utilization and Payment Public Use File (SNF PUF) contains information on utilization, payments, and submitted charges organized by provider, state, and resource utilization group (RUG).  The data include information on 15,055 skilled nursing facilities, over 2.5 million stays, and almost $27 billion in Medicare payments for 2013.”

On March 9, the Antitrust subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee held an oversight hearing on the enforcement of antitrust laws. Fierce Health Payer reports that

While [Assistant Attorney General William] Baer was careful not to offer too many details about the DOJ’s pending investigation of the [Cigna / Anthem and Aetna / Humana] mergers, he did offer some clues about the factors the agency is taking into account as it conducts its review. In response to a question from Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) about whether the DOJ will consider how the mergers affect consumers’ in-network provider choice, Baer noted that “If there’s a reduction in quality that results from a merger–even if there’s no price increase–that is a legitimate concern of merger enforcement both at the FTC and the antitrust division.”

CVS Health announced this week according to Fortune Magazine that the company will spend $50 million on efforts to reduce tobacco use in the U.S. over the coming years. As evidence of its focus on good health, CVS Health took tobacco products off its retail shelves last September which resulted in a $2 billion loss in sales.

The company said on Thursday it would provide funding over five years to leading anti-tobacco and youth-oriented programs with a view to further reducing tobacco use among young people, under the name “Be the First,” a reference to the goal of making today’s youth the first tobacco-free generation. Smoking rates have sharply declined over the past decade — from 20.9% of American adults in 2005 to 16.8% in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Let’s wrap the week up with a couple quick hits.

  • Fierce Health Care offered an interesting review of studies on effective approaches to reducing hospital readmissions. 
  • Fierce Health Finance reported that hospitals “throw out about $3 billion worth of oncology drugs each year unused.” The problem evidently stems from the fact that manufacturers put too much cancer medicine in a single use vial. 

Some drugs, such as bortezomib, used to treat multiple myeloma, comes only in 3.5 milligram vials in the United States, even though 2.5 milligrams is the standard dose. Some $309 million in annual sales are attributed to the discarded doses. But 1 milligram vials of the drug are available in the United Kingdom.

The study noted that not every cancer drug creates such a quandary of waste; bendamustine, which is used to treat leukemia, comes in a wide array of vials, which means that about 1 percent of that drug is wasted every year.


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