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Selected news articles which highlight important policy issues.

News: Weekly Archives

News for the week of 00-00-0000

A 'Good Deed' For AIDS Drug Hits Obstacles
Wall Street Journal, 0-0-00

Editor's Notes:

Gilead Sciences has discovered that its attempt to provide a cheaper version of its AIDS drug, Viread, in poor countries has met with a maze of bureaucracy and regulations that has slowed its distribution and brought the company yet more criticism from AIDS activists.

The simmering controversy over Gilead's access program illustrates how even the best of corporate intentions can run afoul of conflicting interests when it comes to the world's AIDS crisis.

Activists have long criticized drug companies for the high cost of their AIDS treatments and their efforts to block generic–drug makers from marketing cheaper versions overseas—particularly in Africa, the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic. To counter that image, many companies have set up programs in which they donate AIDS drugs or make them available at cost to poor nations—only to sometimes find themselves still catching flak for these initiatives.

Other big drug companies have routinely come in for such criticism. Doctors Without Borders recently blasted Abbott Laboratories for failing to provide sufficient access to a heat–stable version of its AIDS drug Kaletra outside the U.S., saying the company has been too slow in seeking approval for the drug around the world. Similarly, the organization criticizes GlaxoSmithKline PLC. for charging a high price—now roughly $625 a year—in the developing world for its drug Ziagen. Abbott says it is working "as quickly as possible" to get the new version of Kaletra to developing-world patients. Glaxo, meanwhile, notes that it recently cut the price of Ziagen by 28%.

Gilead officials admit many mistakes in conceiving their access program, although they deny slowing its implementation. Gilead research chief Norbert Bischofberger says he was surprised at the reception to the Viread program in many developing nations. "We were under the assumption that, 'We're giving you the drug at no profit, selling it at no cost, and you should be happy to receive it,' " he says. "We found it's not how it works in these countries."

[permanent link]

Hospital Bills Top Health Care Tabs
Washington Times, 0-0-00

Editor's Notes:

America's spending on prescription drugs is only about 11–12% of total health care costs, but is a head–line grabbing topic, largely because of Americans’ ambivalence about drug companies. Hospital spending, on the other hand, is the nation's biggest health care expense but generates much less public hand–wringing despite wide variations in the quality of care and billions of dollars in wasted spending.

Hospitalizations are the single most expensive component of the U.S. health care system and more than 60 percent of hospital bills in 2004 were sent to federal and state governments for Medicare and Medicaid patients, a new federal study says. About 33 percent of every dollar spent on health care goes to in–patient hospital care, according to the report that researchers said can be useful in setting priorities for preventative care and research. "As health care costs rise and the population ages, policy–makers are concerned with the growing burden of hospital–based medical care and expenses to government, consumers and insurers," the report prepared for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stated. The largest percentage of hospital charges were for heart–related problems, such as congestive heart failure, and the delivery and care of newborns, according to researchers with the HHS's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The study reported in 2004 hospital bills totaled $790 billion, and $475 billion of that amount was billed to Medicare and Medicaid patients. The charges do not include physician fees. Medicare bills totaled $363 billion, or 46 percent, and Medicaid, $112 billion or 14.1 percent. Charges to private insurers amounted to $252 billion or nearly a third of all billings, the AHRQ study showed.

It should also be noted that federal regulations and price controls imposed on hospital providers by Medicare and Medicaid distort health care markets and lead to wide variations in the quality of hospital care and billions of dollars in wasted spending. Drug spending is, by comparison, small potatoes.

[permanent link]



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