Welcome to Capsule—your weekly dose of health-care news, where we give you a recap of this week’s highs and lows for key players in the health-care industry. You can expect us every Friday morning as a bookend for your week.
Finally, it’s almost here— Feb. 3rd—also universally known as Feed the Birds Day!
Oh, you thought I meant the Super Bowl. Fair enough. But if you’re interested in learning about the holiday dedicated to our avian friends, you can check out this (very dated-looking) website. In the meantime let’s dig into this week’s health care news.
Here’s what ended the week on a high note:
Medicaid’s Expansion Chances
- North Carolina Democrats are renewing their efforts to expand the state’s Medicaid program, which would provide hundreds of thousands of people with health care, Andrew M. Ballard reports. Past efforts have failed, but two new companion bills (S.B. 3 and H.B. 5) and more Democratic seats on the state Legislature could turn the tide.
- Kansas’ new governor, Laura Kelly (D), introduced a bill this week that would offer Medicaid to 150,000 additional people, Christopher Brown writes. Kelly, whose election in November is seen by many as a sign of a moderate shift in the Kansas electorate, has made Medicaid expansion one of her most visible goals as she begins to assert herself as governor.
- Meanwhile in Idaho, the state’s Supreme Court justices aren’t sold on a libertarian group’s legal argument that expanding Medicaid is unconstitutional, Paul Shukovsky reports. The Idaho Freedom Foundation argued that the language of the ballot initiative unconstitutionally ties Idaho’s Medicaid program to an underlying federal law that could change in the future and bind the state to the program without input from lawmakers in Boise.
- Anthem Inc. shares jumped by the most in more than 10 years after the health insurer said it expects its plan to move up the launch of its pharmacy-benefits business by nine months to help drive strong profit growth, John Tozzi from Bloomberg News writes.
- The company forecast adjusted earnings per share of $19 for 2019, exceeding analysts’ estimates. The forecast reflects growth across Anthem’s businesses as well as some benefit from switching existing customers to its new pharmacy-benefits manager, called IngenioRx.
- Anthem executives have said they expect to save $4 billion a year on drug costs from the new venture, which will replace its existing contract with Cigna Corp.’s Express Scripts.
Novel Device Stats
- The number of “novel” medical devices that hit the market in 2018 surpassed the 98 devices that were approved in 2017 by eight, Ayanna Alexander reports.
- Novel device approvals have grown significantly since 2009, when only 25 devices cleared using a process that doesn’t compare the product to previous versions, according to the FDA.
- There’s been steady use of this regulatory pathway, which is intended to spur innovation among manufacturers. For example, in 2014, 71 devices were approved using these procedures.
It was a bleak week for others. Here’s whose Thursday closed on a downswing:
- Congress isn’t too pleased with drugmakers right now, but were especially critical this week of companies that hiked up prices on insulin. Eli Lilly and Co., Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi were probed by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) this week about average prices, net profits, and changes or modifications they’ve made to products that could justify price increases.
- The House Oversight Committee held a hearing this week on drug prices, Shira Stein reports, as did the Senate Finance Committee. Parents of insulin-dependent children testified at both of them.
- Lawmakers want drugmakers to testify, Jeannie Baumann, Alex Ruoff, and Warren Rojas report. And even though company executives are dragging their feet now, Congress members appear willing to use their subpoena power to pull company leaders up to Capitol Hill.
- State coffers could take a hit because of the anti-vaccination movement. An outbreak of measles in Washington state that’s still growing will cost the state more than $1 million, local public health officials said Wednesday, Alex Ruoff reports.
- Two counties in Washington have confirmed 37 cases of measles since October, most of them in Clark County, which has a low percentage of vaccinated children. In New York state there are roughly 200 reported cases of measles. Public schools have excluded more than 6,000 unvaccinated children from schools since November to encourage parents to get their kids vaccinated.
- All 50 states require children to be vaccinated in order to attend school, but 47 have exemptions for those with religious beliefs against immunizations.
- The first prosecution of a pharmaceutical company chief executive tied to opioid overdoses began this week with Insys Therapeutics Inc. head John Kapoor’s testimony. Kapoor, 75, is accused of masterminding illegal marketing tactics that contributed to an epidemic of addiction and death, Jef Feeley, Riley Griffin, and Janelle Lawrence write for Bloomberg News.
- Kapoor tried to blame the marketing tactics on his underlings. One attorney wasn’t buying it. “John Kapoor sought to get the success he demanded by breaking the law,” he said. “The evidence will show the criminal agreement wasn’t just a small part of Insys. It became Insys. It was Insys.”
- Meanwhile in Ohio, a man who overdosed on an opioid spray prescribed to treat back and knee pain may proceed with some claims against maker Insys Therapeutics Inc., Julie Steinberg reports. The company is fighting lawsuits all over the country, including Minnesota and Illinois.
Thanks for joining us this week and have a great weekend. I’m all ears when it comes to your two cents, tips, critiques, or coordinating exclusive interviews. Send them my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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