PHARMACY

Medicare Advantage may cost more than basic Medicare

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK Medicare Advantage plans may cost more per enrollee than traditional Medicare plans, a report from the Commonwealth Fund has found.

The report, titled “The Continuing Cost of Privatization: Extra Payments to Medicare Advantage Plans in 2008,” found that on average, the privately operated plans would receive 12.4 percent more per enrollee than the per-enrollee cost under the fee-for-service program.

The report also found that reductions in payments to the plans under the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, which takes effect in two years, would still mean they would receive 10.6 percent more than fee-for-service costs.

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FDA increases drug warnings for TNF blockers

BY Alaric DeArment

WASHINGTON A risk of fungal infection has prompted the Food and Drug Administration to call on four drug makers to strengthen warnings on some of their products.

Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade (infliximab), Abbott Laboratories’ Humira (adalimumab), Amgen’s and Wyeth’s Enbrel (etanercept) and UCB’s Cimzia (certolizumab pegol) are the drugs affected after the FDA reviewed 240 reports of the respiratory fungal disease histoplasmosis in patients using the drugs. Of the 240 patients, 45 died from the disease, whose symptoms resemble those of the flu.

The drugs belong to a class of drugs that block tumor necrosis factor, which normally helps the body fight cancer but is sometimes overproduced, leading to diseases such as arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

“Amgen and Wyeth are committed to the safety of patients,” the companies said in a jointly released statement Friday. “Both companies maintain ongoing safety surveillance programs worldwide to analyze and evaluate safety reports from controlled and open-label clinical trials and patient registries, as well as reports received from health care professionals and patients. Both companies work with regulatory agencies to update the label periodically as appropriate based on emerging information.”

Amgen, they stated, will work with the FDA to finalize and communicate revised product labeling for Enbrel to both physicians and patients.

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FDA posts first quarterly drug safety report

BY Alaric DeArment

WASHINGTON The Food and Drug Administration has posted its first quarterly report on drugs under review for possible safety issues, the agency announced Friday.

The drugs are identified based on a review of reports in the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System and are listed under the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007, which requires the FDA to inform the public of new safety information or potential signals of serious risk, based on reviews of AERS.

But, the FDA cautioned, a drug’s appearance on the list doesn’t mean it definitely carries the risk only because the FDA has identified a potential safety issue.

“My message to patients is this: Don’t stop taking your medicine,” said Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “If your doctor has prescribed a drug that appears on this list, you should continue taking it unless your doctor advises you differently.”

Please click here to view the full list of drugs.

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