Patently ridiculous: Pharma companies use gimmicks to extend patents almost indefinitely

It has been more than 20 years since Pfizer‘s blockbuster drug Viagra was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to introduce to the U.S. market and even longer since the original patent was granted, yet there are still no generic equivalents available for it.

The original U.S. patent was set to expire in 2012, but Pfizer added a “method-of-use” patent that extended its exclusivity on the drug through this year. (The Canadian government was not having it.)

This is one of many ways pharmaceutical companies game the system to keep generic competition off the market and keep their prices high. Another is with “citizen petitions,” which are, in theory, a way for citizens to raise concerns about pending drug approvals. In reality, 92 percent of citizen petitions are filed by corporations.

These aren’t mere unintended consequences. Rather, they are deliberate measures by the pharmaceutical industry and their extensive campaign finance and lobbying arms to control how the system works. These lobbying efforts are not partisan in nature — they take aim at whichever legislators are expected to assume power after the next election.

Yes, research and development for prescription drugs is very costly, and FDA approvals take years, but Pfizer alone brought in $53 billion in profits in 2018…so I think they are more than recouping their R&D costs.

 

 

Democrats hammer Republicans on lawsuit seeking to void Obamacare (without mentioning it by name)

Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) are in close re-election dogfights in red states, and Republicans recently filed a lawsuit that just might help them keep their jobs.

Manchin’s and Donnelly’s opponents (Patrick Morrisey and Mike Braun, respectively) have voiced their support for a lawsuit filed by 20 Republican state attorneys general seeking to void the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The patient protections in the name include prohibiting health insurance companies from discriminating against patients with pre-existing health conditions.

Donnelly and Manchin are calling them out on it without explicitly mentioning PPACA: a law whose actual provisions are popular with voters even though its name and especially its nickname (Obamacare) are not.

 

 

GoFundMe CEO: 1/3 of crowdsourcing campaigns are for medical bills

The U.S. healthcare system is so broken and so unaffordable that Americans are turning to crowdsourcing campaigns on websites like GoFundMe to get help paying their medical bills.

GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon recently told Minnesota Public Radio that 1 out of 3 GoFundMe campaigns are started by people asking for help paying their medical bills and that those campaigns raise more money than any other type of campaign on GoFundMe.

 

 

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The GOP’s “solution” to the high cost of health insurance is to make health insurance worthless.

Short-term plans can turn away people with preexisting conditions, including asthma and acne. They can charge older or sicker people prohibitively expensive premiums.

Or they can enroll such people at what looks like a bargain-basement price and then refuse to pay for any care related to preexisting illnesses — including illnesses that enrollees didn’t even know they had when they enrolled, such as cancer or heart disease. Some plans have dropped consumers as soon as they got an expensive diagnosis, sticking them with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unexpected medical bills.

Unlike Obamacare plans, short-term plans also are not required to cover any particular benefits, even for the relatively healthy.

A Kaiser Family Foundation review of short-term plans offered around the country found that most did not cover prescription drugs, and none covered maternity care. Preventive and mental-health care are also frequently excluded.

Catherine Rampell, The Washington Post, 8/3/2018

Worse yet, they can throw the markets for real health insurance into chaos.

This parallel system of insurance will siphon off healthier, younger, less expensive people from the exchanges. That will leave behind a pool of sicker, older, more expensive people, which will drive up premiums on the exchanges.

Between this and repealing the individual mandate, Republicans are actively sabotaging Obamacare to make it seem like a failure.

Women are dying needlessly during childbirth in U.S. hospitals

The vast majority of women in America give birth without incident. But each year, more than 50,000 are severely injured. About 700 mothers die. The best estimates say that half of these deaths could be prevented and half the injuries reduced or eliminated with better care.

Instead, the U.S. continues to watch other countries improve as it falls behind. Today, this is the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth.

USA Today, 7/27/2018

The methods to prevent these deaths are not mysterious, complicated or expensive. They just aren’t being practiced.

Freestanding ERs confuse patients — especially when they get the bill

So, when you think of an emergency room, you probably picture the part of a hospital where ambulances bring people who need immediate, life-saving measures.

You probably don’t picture a small facility in a strip mall “next to a nail place.” That’s something altogether different, isn’t it? Like an urgent care, perhaps.

Not according to the bill.

Freestanding emergency rooms are popping up all over the country. While many of them are operated by hospitals, some are operated by independent companies, including the largest provider, Adeptus Health. Some sticker-shocked patients complained in a lawsuit.

The suit targets Adeptus Health, the largest provider of freestanding ERs in the country, claiming that Adeptus “actively conceals its billing practices” and operates a business model meant to “trick patients into believing that its centers are appropriate for non-emergent care for the purpose of extracting extravagant fees.”

NBC News, 4/25/2017

The lawsuit might be a moot point. According to The Dallas Morning News, Adeptus Health filed for bankruptcy in April. Even without Adeptus Health in the picture, many freestanding emergency rooms will continue to operate.

What about EMTALA?

There’s another significant way in which freestanding emergency rooms can differ from hospital emergency rooms. The federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) does not apply to them, meaning federal law doesn’t require them to accept all patients regardless of ability to pay. Some states have passed EMTALA-like laws for freestanding emergency rooms, but some have not.

So, are these facilities really emergency rooms, or are they merely urgent care facilities gouging non-emergent patients with ER-like prices? It’s an important reminder to be really sure about the level of care you are seeking before you receive it…or else you could pay a hefty price.