|Selected news articles which highlight important policy issues.||
News: Weekly Archives
News for the week of 08-10-2006
TV Ads for Prescription Drugs Fuel Further Debate
Critics of prescription drug advertising claim that the high volume of ads, particularly for "lifestyle" drugs like the sleep aid Lunesta, are causing a surge in the number of patients demanding treatment for symptoms that would be better treated through non–medical means and driving up the nation's health care bill.
Advertising [can promote] the use of expensive prescription drugs by otherwise healthy people, critics say. Some users of Pfizer's Viagra and other drugs to treat erectile dysfunction are taking them simply to facilitate certain lifestyles.
The elimination of direct–to–consumer advertising is not the solution to rising health care costs. Rather, policymakers should focus on building a consumer driven health care system that gives patients the information and the financial incentives to spend their own health care dollars wisely.
For instance, if a patient knows that a $10 or $15 co-pay will cover the latest drug for insomnia, they may not think twice about demanding a prescription. However, a patient who had an HSA attached to a high–deductible insurance plan would have to consider if buying Lunesta at its full price was better than making other health changes. Consumer–driven health care will empower patients to control costs without depriving them of the information they need to make informed choices.
Congress to Probe Policies at NIH
The National Institutes of Health is under renewed pressure from Congress to tighten its conflict of interest policies as a result of an article in the Los Angeles Times alleging that Thomas Walsh, a senior NIH researcher, did not disclose his industry ties when serving on a FDA advisory committee.
U.S. conflict–of–interest law generally prohibits a federal employee from representing an outside party before a government agency. Walsh, in earlier comments to the newspaper, said that he appeared before the FDA not as a company representative but "as a government scientist providing information and/or evaluation" regarding clinical trials...
This is not the first time that the Times has alleged serious conflict of interests at the NIH—an earlier investigation found isolated violations of NIH regulations, but not the widespread problems asserted by Times reporters. The problem with these allegations is that, rather than alleging specific wrongdoing—like fabricating or withholding data—they tend to attribute guilt by association. Researchers who have any ties to industry—and industry is bound to seek out the best experts it can when developing new products, a process that is very much in the public's best interest—are automatically presumed to be suspect in their professional duties. This is bad logic, and it is likely to lead to bad policy.
The better solution is that researchers should simply declare all significant financial interests, and recuse themselves when companies they consult for (or their competitors) are implicated in important regulatory decisions. We should rely on peer review and clinical judgment to vet medical information—not leering into the minds of researchers searching for hidden bias.
New Tests May Help Treat Lung Cancer
A recently released study in the New England Journal of Medicine holds promising news for patients suffering from lung cancer. The study found that researchers can use genetic markers to better predict the best treatment options for patients suffering from non–small–cell lung cancer.
Patients who suffer from this type of cancer had previously been unable to receive insurance coverage for adjuvant chemotherapy immediately after surgery because it was thought that the treatment didn't provide tangible benefits. This study found that patients who had a specific gene expression profile were more likely to relapse and were therefore more likely to benefit from chemotherapy to treat the disease in its early stages. A similar study in the same issue found that genetic patterning may also help physicians decide when to use chemotherapy for certain breast cancer patients.
In light of the findings, the Duke researchers have already approached health insurers, asking them to cover chemotherapy for early–stage lung–cancer patients, depending on the progress of a forthcoming clinical trial. They say health insurers are already aware of the gap in coverage because many early–stage patients sign up for clinical trials that include chemotherapy just to receive more aggressive treatment.
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