Health briefs: Cost of hepatitis drug rattles insurers

  • Updated: March 15, 2014 - 2:00 PM
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FILE - In this Sept. 13, 2011 photo provided by the University of Chicago Medical Center, a doctor watches an internal video of the patientís body as he assists in prostate cancer surgery at the University of Chicago Medical Center in Chicago. Surgery to remove the prostate saves lives compared to "watchful waiting" for some men whose cancers were found because they were causing symptoms, long-term results from a Scandinavian study suggest. However, U.S. men should not assume that immediate treatment is best, doctors warn, because the study was done before PSA testing became common, and a newer study found the opposite. Results were published in the Thursday, March 6, 2014 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. (AP Photo/University of Chicago Medical Center, Bruce Powell)

Photo: Bruce Powell • University of Chicago Medical Center via Associated Press,

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Cost of Hepatitis drug is A shock

When the Food and Drug Administration approved a medication called Sovaldi in December, it was hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against hepatitis C, a blood-borne disease that affects 3.2 million Americans and kills more people in the United States annually — 1,500 — than AIDS. Then California-based Gilead Sciences, the manufacturer, announced the price: $84,000 for a 12-week course, more than what many cancer treatments cost in a year. The price tag has rattled patient advocacy groups and insurance companies. One insurer has said it risks bankruptcy if it’s required to cover the drug for everyone who needs it this year. Advocates say Gilead has taken corporate greed to new levels. Gilead said the price is fair. Sovaldi actually cures hepatitis C, giving it an advantage over other types of therapies and allowing the company to price it higher, said Kenneth Kaitin, director of the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, an independent nonprofit research group at Tufts University. The disease can lead to cancer or cirrhosis of the liver.

prostate surgery CUTs death risk

A study of men diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer in the late 1980s and 1990s concluded that those who were treated with surgery were much less likely to die of the disease — or of anything else — than those whose prostates were left in place and who were monitored by their doctors. The study in the New England Journal of Medicine also found that the more time that passed since the diagnosis, the greater the benefits from early surgery. The 695 men in the Scandinavian Prostate Cancer Group Study Number 4 hailed from Sweden, Finland or Iceland, and all had localized tumors. The researchers found that men who were assigned to have their prostates removed were 44 percent less likely to have died of the disease and 29 percent less likely to have died. Men assigned to watchful-waiting were more likely to have their prostate cancer spread. Those metastases weren’t necessarily life-threatening, but often led to hormone therapy. And the side effects of the therapy were “strongly associated with reduced quality of life,” the study said.

The rise of bionic americans

It’s not just grandma with a new hip and your uncle with a new knee. More than 2 of every 100 Americans now have an artificial joint, doctors said. Among those older than 50, 5 percent have replaced a knee and more than 2 percent, a hip. “They are remarkable numbers,” said Dr. Daniel J. Berry, chairman of orthopedic surgery at the Mayo Clinic. About 7 million Americans are living with a total hip or knee replacement. He led the first major study to estimate how prevalent these procedures have become. More than 600,000 knees and about 400,000 hips are replaced in the United States each year. But until now, there haven’t been good numbers on how many people are living with new joints. The number is expected to grow as the population ages, raising questions about cost, how long the new parts will last, and how best to replace the replacements as they wear out. Arthritis is the main reason for these operations, followed by obesity, which adds stress on knees and hips.

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