PHARMACY

Coalition urges tougher PBM rules as Congress weighs final reform bill

BY Jim Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Va. A broad coalition of consumer and labor interest groups is putting new pressure on Congress to force new transparency requirements on the pharmacy benefit management industry.

The coalition, comprised of 24 interest groups, appealed Thursday to leaders in the House and Senate for tougher laws governing PBMs as Congress works to reconcile massive health-reform bills already passed by both chambers. Among the group’s members: the Consumer Federation of America, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the National Women’s Health Network and the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices.

The 24 organizations sent a jointly-signed letter, dated Jan. 13, to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. They’re urging the two congressional leaders to combine PBM transparency provisions already included in each health reform proposal as the Democrats work to hammer out a compromise bill to send to President Obama.

In their appeal, the groups assert that forcing PBMs to open their business and pricing arrangements to scrutiny would prove “a key component in curbing healthcare spending.

“It gives health plans and consumers the tools they need to ensure that their money is well spent, and that the [insurance] plan receives a reasonable portion of the savings and rebates accrued by the PBM on their behalf,” the coalition told Pelosi and Reid. “Large plan sponsors with the bargaining power to demand transparency have enjoyed considerable savings as a result.”

The group’s appeal gained an immediate endorsement from Bruce Roberts, EVP and CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association and one of the PBM industry’s most vocal watchdogs. “PBMs’ secretive, profit-padding practices are creating greater health care costs for everyone else,” Roberts asserted Thursday. “These transparency provisions, while modest, represent the most sweeping federal regulation of PBMs yet.”

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Study: Some African-American diabetics at risk of developing retinal disease

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK African-American diabetics who consume large amounts of calories and sodium risk developing more severe retinal disease than those who don’t, according to a study published in the January issue of Archives of Ophthalmology.

Researchers at the New York University College of Dentistry and the New Jersey Medical School at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey examined 469 African-American patients with Type 1 diabetes who enrolled in the study between 1993 and 1998, administering eye exams, blood tests and a diet questionnaire after a six-year follow-up.

Those with the highest caloric intake at the beginning of the study were more likely to develop retinopathy leading to vision loss by the end of the six-year period, while those with high sodium intake had the highest risk of developing macular edema.

“In African American patients with Type 1 diabetes, high caloric and sodium intakes are significant and independent risk factors for progression to severe forms of diabetic retinopathy,” the authors wrote. “These results suggest that low caloric and sodium intakes in African American individuals with Type 1 diabetes mellitus may have a beneficial effect on the progression of diabetic retinopathy and thus might be part of dietary recommendations for this population.”

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Google.org to expand Google Flu Trends tracking

BY Michael Johnsen

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. Google.org on Tuesday announced on its blog site that it is expanding its Google Flu Trends tracking capabilities from the macro to the micro.

“We’ve been chatting with public health officials about new ways we can help people understand the spread of flu during this unusual time and today we’re excited to bring city level flu estimates to 121 cities in the United States,” the company wrote in its blog.

The city level estimates are “experimental,” the company cautioned, meaning they haven’t been validated against official data. However, the estimates are made in a similar manner to its U.S. national estimates, which have been validated.

In contrast to the unusually early spike of flu activity this October, Google Flu Trends is currently showing a low level of activity in the United States.

Google Flu Trends helps estimate flu trends in real time by tracking the popularity of certain Google search queries.

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