RealClearHealth Morning Scan -- 03/31/2016

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Competing Groups Agree on Drugs, Risk Adjustment
Caitlin Owens, MC
The strange dance between the pharmaceutical industry, insurers and the Obama administration has taken a new turn. When it comes to one of the wonkiest healthcare policies out there, all three seem close to agreement. They want prescription drugs to be included in determinations about whether a certain pools of patients are riskier than others.

An Unlikely Route to Limiting Drug Prices
Emma Court, Marketwatch
Should the government revoke a drug’s patent in the effort to control runaway drug pricing? Activists and congresspeople have called for just that measure in the case of prostate cancer drug Xtandi, arguing that the medication’s $129,000 price tag — several times the price in other countries — is sufficient cause for either revoking the drug’s patent, or at least considering it. But analysts at Height Securities and Evercore ISI said that was unlikely to happen, given the National Institutes of Health’s prior stance on the issue.

Hackers Offer Discount to Unlock MedStar Data
Duncan, et al., Balto. Sun
The hackers who locked up data on MedStar's computers this week are demanding ransom to begin unlocking it — and they're offering a bulk discount to release all of it, according to a copy of the demands obtained by The Baltimore Sun. The attack was made public by the FBI and MedStar on Monday. A doctor at a MedStar hospital in Baltimore and a second source familiar with the matter confirmed Wednesday that it was launched by hackers seeking payment.

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An Addiction Treatment That Isn't Being Used
Alice Park, Time
In the U.S., nearly two million people abuse prescription opioid painkillers. For many, an initial prescription to treat pain leads to a dangerous dependence and misuse that contributes to around 14,000 deaths each year. In a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists report on the results of the first study to look at an approved drug, naltrexone, for treating opiate dependence.

U.S. Opioid Plan Would Make Only a Dent
Steven Ross Johnson, Mod. HC
The move to bump patient limits from 100 to 200 was met with mixed reactions by health professionals and patient advocates who say physicians often shy away from medication-assisted treatment because they don't have the staff or the financial incentive to prescribe it. The White House estimates the rule could increase treatment to “tens of thousands” of people with opioid use disorders, but the level of unmet demand means the effort is unlikely to make a big enough difference in saving lives.

FDA Guidelines Ease Access to Abortion Pill
Sabrina Tavernise, NYT
The Food and Drug Administration has relaxed the guidelines for taking a pill that induces abortion, reviving one of the most contentious issues of the abortion debate. The change allows women to use the drug further into pregnancy and with fewer visits to the doctor.

Why Nestle Is Acting Like a Drug Company
Rebecca Robbins, Stat
Its Nestlé Health Science subsidiary, which develops nutritional products to improve health, is pouring money into companies targeting conditions like gut infections, muscle loss, and Alzheimer’s disease. It just opened an outpost in the biotech hub of Kendall Square.

Tainted Drugs from China May Still Be in U.S.
Anna Edney, Bloomberg
The letter from the House committee said the FDA dropped the ball on many fronts and may have allowed unsafe blood thinners to remain on the market longer than necessary. Regulators didn’t properly or widely enough share information and didn’t follow up on leads about tainted heparin from other governments, according to the letter. Agency investigators failed to inform others about dodgy crude heparin makers, the panel said. It also said the FDA didn’t follow up on concerns that heparin with the chemical was recycled after the poison was removed and may have entered the U.S. market.

Groundbreaking HIV-to-HIV Transplants
Steven Reinberg, HealthDay
Trailblazing liver and kidney transplants from an HIV-positive donor to HIV-positive recipients were announced Wednesday by surgeons at Johns Hopkins University. "A couple of weeks ago, we performed the first HIV-to-HIV liver transplant in the world and the first HIV-to-HIV kidney transplant in the United States," Dr. Dorry Segev said during a midday media briefing.

Medical Community Is Fighting New Germ: Celebrities
Jake Coyle, AP
When celebrity and science collide, harmful side effects may occur. The latest case happened last weekend when the Tribeca Film Festival pulled a documentary from its program by a discredited former doctor whose research into the connection between vaccines and autism has been debunked. After festival co-founder Robert De Niro initially defended the film's inclusion, Tribeca - facing an uproar from doctors and experts - pulled it.

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