|Selected news articles which highlight important policy issues.||
News: Weekly Archives
News for the week of 08-14-2006
AIDS Effort in Zambia Hailed as a Success
The fight against AIDS in Africa in recent years has been largely been focused on increasing the availability of cheap antiretroviral drugs in the poorest nations. The latest news from Zambia seems to show that, at least in certain countries, these efforts are finally bearing fruit:
Only a few years ago, there was widespread skepticism that AIDS treatment programs would work in poor countries. The drugs were considered too costly and too hard to deliver to those who needed them; the required regimens were seen as too complicated and the side effects too dangerous.
Still, optimism about the effectiveness of this and other similar treatment programs must be tempered by the knowledge that millions of new infections in Africa occur every year. A comprehensive battle plan for treating AIDS in developing countries must be created that combines prevention with treatment, and highlights the regulatory and cultural barriers that impair efforts to control the disease in the areas where it is prevalent. For an additional commentary on the recent 16th annual global AIDS conference in Toronto, Canada, take a look at this Web page at the Campaign for Fighting Diseases.
Research to Unleash Gene Therapy on Arthritis
Researchers will soon begin clinical trials for arthritis patients using gene therapy. After the death of Jesse Gelsinger, a young patient enrolled in a gene therapy trial at the University of Pennsylvania in 1999, research in the field has slowed markedly due to safety concerns.
Thankfully, however, this and many other ongoing trials are a welcome indication that the field is returning to the great promise it once held. There may, of course, be other tragic setbacksas there were in the early days of kidney transplants, to use only once examplebut the regulators and the media need to keep in mind the potential benefits of gene therapy for millions of patients with diseases ranging from arthritis to cystic fibrosis.
The arthritis studies are part of an expansion of gene therapy research to diseases that are neither purely genetic nor necessarily lethal. Seven years after the death of a healthy teenager in a flawed experiment stalled most gene therapy studies, research is booming in diseases ranging from Alzheimer's and angina to cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Options Are Available for Seniors In Medi-Gap
The recent furor over the Medicare drug benefit coverage gap (known notoriously as the "donut hole") has inspired many pundits to demand that Congress authorize the government to negotiate directly with manufacturers to lower drug prices in order to eliminate the coverage gap.
However, it is important to note that many of those affected by the gap will largely be middle class, not poor seniors, who already receive substantial drug subsidies. In addition, on November 15th seniors in the program will be able to sign up for a new plan without a "donut hole" if they so choose.
But the bottom line is this: Medicare as a universal entitlement is enormously expensive and cannot be sustained in its current form. Throwing price controls onto drugs won't change that equation. Policymakers who are serious about closing the "donut hole" in the federal government should focus on reforming Medicare, including means testing the program that would ensure that the wealthiest seniors pay more than middle class seniors, and middle class seniors pay more than the poorest seniors. This would improve Medicare's fiscal health and allow the program to over better coverage for everyone—without government price controls on prescription drugs. Sometimes, one size doesn't fit everyone.
The Healthcare Leadership Council, a Washington–based advocacy group, said about 25 percent of middle–class seniors who rely exclusively on Part D for prescription drug coverage will hit the doughnut this year. But Michael Freeman, a spokesman for the council, noted that 54 percent of them had no coverage last year. He said they will have saved about $2,000 before they hit the gap.
Scientists Begin to Grasp the Stealthy Spread of Cancer
Scientists on the cutting edge of cancer research have begun to focus on a critical time during the early stages of the disease to develop better cancer diagnostics and treatments. Researchers are focusing particularly on genes that can help them understand how cancers metastasize, since cancer becomes significantly harder to combat once it spreads from its original site in the body.
The moment when a cancer begins to spread throughout the body—metastasis—has always been the most dreaded turning point of the disease.
Medicare Sees No Increase in Premium for Drugs
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, next year's Medicare premiums for the Part D drug benefit will remain stable at current prices—about $24. This premium is well bellow the $41 that CMS had predicted for 2007.
Premiums for a particular plan may rise next year. But, Dr. McClellan said, "the vast majority of beneficiaries will have access to Medicare drug plans that cost them the same as or less than their coverage in 2006."
CMS attributed the low costs to competition and choice in Part D, although critics argued that lower premiums might result in restricted access to certain prescription drugs. The Medicare plan was initiated as part of an ongoing effort to give seniors better health care and more choices. Positive early evidence for the program suggests that seniors may be open to additional marketbased Medicare reforms.
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