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Health reform study buoys Dems as CBO predicts deficit reduction

BY Drug Store News Team

NEW YORK After months of hard-edged wrangling in Congress, on the Sunday morning political gab fests, on talk radio, in angry town-hall meetings and in dueling blogs online, the fate of President Obama’s top domestic priority – namely, the overhaul of the nation’s fractured healthcare system and the expansion of health coverage to the uninsured – appeared increasingly threatened. A growing chorus of Beltway insiders and pundits on the left and right were all but declaring health-reform legislation dead in the water for 2009.

 

Then came this week’s Congressional Budget Office report. In an analysis that left White House officials and congressional Democrats jubilant, the nonpartisan CBO, after combing through the complexities of the health overhaul bill proposed in the Senate Finance Committee, declared that the Baucus plan actually would lower, not raise, the federal deficit.

 

Considering the multi trillion-dollar size of that debt burden, the savings aren’t much: something around $81 billion, according to the CBO’s 10-year projection, which pegged total costs for the expansion of health coverage and modernization of the healthcare system at $829 billion. But that relatively modest savings prediction was enough to give the President the wiggle room he needed to maintain his claim that reforming the health system wouldn’t add a dime to the federal deficit. And, more importantly, the CBO analysis pumped new life into the increasingly urgent campaign by House and Senate Democrats to pass a health reform bill this year.

The Senate Finance Committee plan calls for increasing health coverage from 83% of legal U.S. residents not already covered by Medicare, to 94% over the next decade. It also would provide subsidies to low-income Americans to help pay for coverage through health insurance “exchanges,” and boost the rolls of Medicaid beneficiaries.

So where do the savings come from? According to the CBO, the Baucus plan to tax high-premium health insurance plans would yield more than $200 billion in savings over the next 10 years. Shifting the way the government pays for healthcare services – by moving from a fee-for-service model that rewards doctors and hospitals for ordering high-cost tests and procedures, to an evidence-based payment model that focuses on disease prevention and successful patient outcomes – would save many billions more, the agency predicted.

The CBO report may have revitalized the health reform campaign in Congress, but it did nothing to mollify Republicans, who are almost unanimously opposed to many of the proposals in both the Senate and House bills. Look for more wrangling in the days ahead, but it’s likely some watered-down version of health overhaul legislation will stagger out of Congress and onto the president’s desk before Congress adjourns this fall.

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Medco report: Specialty pharmacy spending driven by cancer drugs

BY Alaric DeArment

FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J. Cancer drugs will become the biggest driver of specialty pharmacy spending, with global sales of the drugs expected to reach $80 billion by 2012, according to a new report by pharmacy benefit manager Medco Health Solutions.

Spending on cancer drugs increase by 15.1% last year – behind autoimmune disorder and multiple sclerosis drugs – with an overall contribution to drug spending of 5% during the first half of this year.

“Targeted cancer therapies have dramatically reshaped oncology and greatly benefited cancer patients,” Medco chief medical officer Robert Epstein said in a statement. “The newer cancer drugs improve survival rates since they target what fuels the cancer’s growth.”

Cancer drugs also represent a robust pipeline, with more than 800 under investigation. Many of the drugs that the Food and Drug Administration has approved in the last four years – often biotech drugs – have cost $20,000 for 12-week courses of therapy, while some have cost $10,000 a month, though the report said a regulatory approval pathway for biosimilars could help reduce the costs of biotech drug treatments.

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Kinney Drugs to purchase Vermont retail pharmacy

BY Alaric DeArment

GOUVERNEUR, N.Y. A regional retail pharmacy chain in northern New York state will purchase a locally owned store in Vermont.

Kinney Drugs announced Wednesday that it would purchase Vincent’s Drug & Variety, in Waterbury, Vt. The purchase is expected to take place in early January 2010.

“Everyone at Kinney Drugs is excited at the prospect of welcoming Vincent’s Drug employees and customers into our family,” Kinney Drugs president and COO Bridget-ann Hart said in a statement. “It is important to us that this transition be as smooth as possible for both Vincent’s Drug customers and its employees.”

Vincent’s Drug & Variety has been in Waterbury for 98 years.

“The values, health programs and services and community involvement of our two companies are very much aligned,” owner and pharmacist John Vincent said in a statement. “I wholeheartedly trust the people of Kinney Drugs to provide the same level of caring that Washington County has become accustomed to from Vincent’s Drug & Variety.”

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