HEALTH

AARP cites big jump in Rx prices

BY Jim Frederick

WASHINGTON Manufacturer prices for widely used brand-name prescription drugs jumped nearly 9% in 2008, AARP reported Thursday, while average prices for generic drugs continued a gradual slide.

In a widely disseminated report, the advocacy group for Americans ages 50 years and older said brand-name drug prices staged their fastest annual growth rate in six years, “far exceeding the general inflation rate of just 3.8%.” By contrast, the organization said in its latest Rx Watchdog Report, widely used generic drugs continued to decrease in 2008, falling by an average of 10.6%.

AARP public policy director John Rother said the pricing trends underscored the value of generics.

“A person taking three brand-name prescription drugs could see his or her annual costs climb by more than $550 in just one year,” Rother said. “Switching to generic drugs whenever possible is one of the quickest and easiest ways to drastically reduce your healthcare bills.”

The vast majority of generics, 83%, saw no price increase last year, AARP reported, while “many of the generics that did drop in price saw drastic decreases.”

AARP’s report also examined the manufacturer prices of widely used specialty prescription drugs aimed at serious conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

“These drugs had even larger price increases than traditional brand-name drugs, rising an average of 9.3% in the last year,” the group reported. “The average annual increase in the cost of therapy for a specialty drug grew from $2,297 to $2,860 between 2007 and 2008.”

Reacting to AARP’s latest salvo, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America decried the report as one-sided and too narrow in its focus. PhRMA senior VP Ken Johnson said in a statement that AARP “distorts the true, overall picture in hopes of dramatizing its report and deflecting attention from the millions of dollars it earns each year from its insurance businesses.”

PhRMA has long advocated that policymakers, health plan payers and the public look at prescription drug prices in the larger context of their positive impact on overall health care savings.

“While the use of prescription medicines is growing because of the increased role medicines play in treating disease and helping patients to live longer, healthier lives, the cost of prescription medicines represents just over 10 cents of every health care dollar spent in the United States,” noted the group.

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FDA approves ExpressMD Solutions’ health monitoring system

BY Michael Johnsen

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. The Food and Drug Administration recently granted 510(k) marketing clearance to ExpressMD Solutions for its remote patient health monitoring system, the company announced Tuesday.

The Electronic House Call System is designed for use by healthcare professionals who manage patients with chronic conditions, such as heart disease, COPD/asthma and diabetes. Vital signs collected by the system’s connected peripheral devices include a patient’s weight, temperature, pulse and blood pressure, and other specific patient data such as blood glucose levels.

“Now that we have received FDA approval for the ExpressMD telehealth solution, Electronic House Call, we can move forward with the next phase of our sales and marketing strategy, and selling systems into the market,” stated Ronald Mills, ExpressMD Solutions managing director. “Part of this effort will be supported through a non-exclusive distribution agreement already in place with Cyntrist, which covers the Southeastern U.S. region. We believe that remote patient monitoring has the power to effectively change the landscape of the patient care model by lowering costs and improving patient care.”

The Electronic House Call monitor securely transmits a patient’s vital signs to its data center and makes that data available to a licensed care provider via a secure Web site. By remotely receiving patient data daily, licensed care providers can adjust treatment accordingly and provide an enhanced level of care.

ExpressMD Solutions is a joint venture formed by Authentidate Holding and EncounterCare Solutions on the delivery of remote patient monitoring telehealth systems and services.

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National survey reveals gap in ‘uncontrolled asthma’ knowledge

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON A new nationwide telephone survey of 1,001 patients released Wednesday found that while 66% of asthma patients considered asthma a serious condition, the majority of the 21% who reported discontinuing taking an asthma controller medicine did so because they incorrectly believed their asthma was controlled.

“This survey shows there’s an alarming divide between what people know about their asthma and the actions they take to achieve optimal control of their asthma symptoms,” stated Mike Tringale, director of external affairs for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, which conducted the survey with support from AstraZeneca. “Part of the problem may be that many patients believe their asthma is under control once they’re no longer experiencing symptoms. Asthma patients can take action to better manage their asthma symptoms through appropriate treatment, tools and resources.”

People with asthma suffer from chronic lung inflammation (swelling), which, if left untreated, can lead to progressive loss of lung function and other severe consequences. Nearly 42% of patients surveyed incorrectly believe that when asthma symptoms subside, their controller medicine can be taken less regularly. For those with persistent asthma, a controller, or maintenance medication, helps manage chronic lung inflammation. When taken over the long-term, asthma controller medications are shown to not only help control asthma symptoms, but also help to improve lung function. Of the patients taking a controller medication, nearly all (93%) of patients indicate that controller medications work best when taken every day.

The survey also found that 87% of physicians think their patients stop their asthma controller medications without their advice.

“There is a clear need for more physician-to-patient education about asthma control and appropriate therapies,” stated Reynold Panettieri from the University of Pennsylvania and an author of the study. “The first step to asthma control is for patients and physicians to create an asthma action plan, which may include a controller therapy.”

Asthma, considered one of the most serious chronic diseases in the United States, affects more than 22 million Americans. In 2004, sudden uncontrolled asthma episodes accounted for an estimated 1.8 million emergency room visits and nearly 500,000 hospitalizations. Current asthma management guidelines from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute note that properly controlled asthma is marked by patients being able to carry out all normal day-to-day activities, a decrease in weekly symptoms (no more than two times per week) and a decrease in yearly asthma attacks (no more than one attack per year which required oral corticosteroid therapy).

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