How an obscure drug’s 4,000% price increase might finally spur action on soaring health-care costs

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By Carolyn Johnson

Spectacularly high drug prices have become a political punching bag, especially since Turing Pharmaceuticals struck a nerve by increasing the price of a 62-year-old drug by more than 4,000 percent — a mind-boggling increase similar to waking up one day and finding out a gallon of gas costs nearly $100.

Hillary Rodham Clinton announced on Twitter that she’d lay out a plan to help control the “price gouging” in the pharmaceutical industry, which she called “outrageous.” Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) this summer launched an investigation into exorbitant drug prices and began sending letters to drug companies requesting information about their prices.

The details do indeed turn out to be as insane as they sound. But behind them lurks a real lesson about the way drugs are priced in the United States and what role they actually play in the trillion-dollar fight over controlling health-care costs.

New York-based Turing bought the drug called Daraprim for $55 million this summer. It is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can be severe in patients with compromised immune systems, such as HIV, and for pregnant women. Earlier this month, the head of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association condemned the price increase from $13.50 a pill to $750, noting that the average cost per year for a patient weighing more than 132 pounds would be $634,500

Read more at The Washington Post

Instead of Criminalizing Homelessness, Utah Is Doing the Opposite — And It’s Working

Utah

After Barbara Simons left her abusive husband and the house they lived in together six years ago, she had nowhere to go. She was without a job and her daughter, Jamie, was struggling with mental health issues. She ended up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and feared she’d become homeless.

Then she heard about a program run by the state that would pay for her and Jamie to get an apartment with no strings attached. The Housing First program started in 2005, and Simons says it might have saved her life.

“I don’t know if I’d be alive,” Simons told Mic by phone. “Or I’d be alive and living on the street. It just helped me get back on my feet. It showed that people cared about you.”

Even though Utah is one of the most conservative states in the nation, it has become a leader in progressive policies meant to help the homeless. By proving that a conservative state could solve its chronic homelessness problem for less money than traditional homelessness policies, Utah has become a model for towns, cities and states across the nation.

Read more at Policy.Mic

You Can’t Quarantine Stupid: Ebola & Unconstitutional Health Policy

WWI propaganda poster warning soldiers against catching venereal diseases
WWI propaganda poster warning soldiers against catching venereal diseases

The year was 1918. After two and a half years of uneasy neutrality, America had finally entered The Great War and had committed over 4 million men to the war effort. As one would expect—or at least hope—the United States government took great care to prepare newly enlisted men for military service, making sure that those who had no prior military experience would be adequately trained and ready to fight when they reached Europe. However, the United States government understood that their soldiers would not only face dangers abroad, but at home as well, and worked tirelessly to keep them safe from that most dreaded of all military foes: syphilis.

Yes, at the beginning of the 20th century, venereal diseases were a massive problem for the US military, with 13% of all Americans drafted by Uncle Sam for WWI testing positive for syphilis or gonorrhea. At the time, there was a more intensely moral stigma around venereal diseases than there is today, and the primary mode of transmission for such diseases was widely thought to reside solely in sex acts that occurred outside of traditional marriage, the most pernicious of these sex acts being prostitution. In response to this, US, state and local governments eschewed the simple solution of providing their soldiers-in-training with prophylactics should they purchase a few moments of a woman’s time and tried to take away the opportunity for soldiers to contract the diseases by dismantling the prostitution trade.

In the summer of 1918, US Congress took matters into its own hands and passed the highly unconstitutional Chamberlain-Kahn Act, which granted the military $1 million to be used in a “civilian quarantine and isolation fund” that could be used to indefinitely detain prostitutes and “promiscuous women and girls.” The exact number of women who were unjustly detained as the result of this program is unknown, but estimates generally suggest a number somewhere around 30,000. The women were held in quarantine for an average of 70 days in federal detention centers and 1 year in reformatories near Army and Navy training camps.

Only 1/3 of the women that were held in these detention centers and reformatories were ever charged with prostitution. The other 2/3 were simply detained for having a venereal disease or for a host of arbitrary reasons ranging from how they dressed to the way they danced. In no way were any of the decisions on who to quarantine based on the most recent scientific findings or public health concerns. Rather, these decisions revolved around the personal moral judgements of men in power concerning women who had little or no rights. As a member of the military’s newly formed Commission on Training Camp Activities from New Jersey described after “investigating” the behavior of local women, “the manner of dancing by certain of these girls was so suggestive as to constitute almost positive proof of their indulging in sexual intercourse.” In other words, they’re whores because we say they’re whores.

The most egregious example of this pseudo-scientific posturing is from the bipartisan duo of New York and New Jersey Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, who apparently obtained masters degrees in Public Health overnight and have enacted strict quarantine policies for people returning from West Africa who have had contact with Ebola patients. Governor Christie echoed the inane violations of civil rights perpetrated nearly a century ago on prostitutes and “impure” women by quarantining Kaci Hickox, a nurse who had been working with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) to help people in Sierra Leone who were enduring the ravages of Ebola. Upon landing in New Jersey, Hickox, who was asymptomatic for Ebola or any other disease for that matter, was promptly detained and quarantined in a tent equipped with the luxury of a portable toilet, but without a shower or television.

Read more at the Daily Kos

Out of control: How the world’s health organizations failed to stop the Ebola disaster

 Two people lay dead on the floor Sept. 20 inside a ward at the Redemption Hospital, which has become a transfer and holding center for Ebola patients in the New Kru Town slum of Monrovia, Liberia.

Two people lay dead on the floor Sept. 20 inside a ward at the Redemption Hospital, which has become a transfer and holding center for Ebola patients in the New Kru Town slum of Monrovia, Liberia.

Tom Frieden remembers the young woman with the beautiful hair, dyed a rusty gold and braided meticulously, elaborately, perhaps by someone who loved her very much. She was lying facedown, half off the mattress. She had been dead for hours, and flies had found the bare flesh of her legs.

Two other bodies lay nearby. Bedridden patients who had not yet succumbed said of the dead, “Please, get them out of here.”

Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), knew it was no simple matter to properly carry away a body loaded with Ebola virus. It takes four people wearing protective suits, one at each corner of the body bag. On that grim day near the end of August, in a makeshift Ebola ward in Monrovia, Liberia, burial teams already had lugged 60 victims to a truck for the trip to the crematorium.

Frieden had seen plenty of death over the years, but this was far worse than he expected, a plague on a medieval scale. “A scene out of Dante,” he called it.

Shaken, he flew back to the United States on Aug. 31 and immediately briefed President Obama by phone. The window to act was closing, he told the president in the 15-minute call.

That conversation, nearly six months after the World Health Organization (WHO) learned of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, was part of a mounting realization among world leaders that the battle against the virus was being lost. As of early September, with more than 1,800 confirmed Ebola deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, there was still no coordinated global response. Alarmed U.S. officials realized they would need to call in the military.

Obama eventually ordered 3,000 military personnel to West Africa; about 200 had arrived by the beginning of this month. They will be joined by health workers from countries such as Britain, China and Cuba. Canada and Japan are sending protective gear and mobile laboratories. Nonprofit organizations such as the Gates Foundation also are contributing. But it’s not at all clear that this belated muscular response will be enough to quell the epidemic before it takes tens of thousands of lives.

This is an open-ended crisis involving a microscopic threat on the move. This week came the unsettling news that the Ebola epidemic has now reached across the Atlantic Ocean to a hospital in Texas, where a Liberian man has tested positive for the virus.

So how did the situation get so horribly out of control?

Read more at The Washington Post

Women Victims of Unmet Western Promises in Islamic Countries

Credit: Photo via Irrationally Bound

By Marianna Karakoulaki

China Revises Environmental Law

FILE – Commuters wearing masks make their way amid thick haze in the morning in Beijing. China’s north is suffering a pollution crisis, with the capital Beijing itself shrouded in acrid smog. Authorities have introduced anti-pollution policies.

HONG KONG — After almost two years of debate, China’s parliament has passed a new law that analysts say is a positive step in addressing the country’s systemic problems with the environment. Environmental groups say that although implementation may prove difficult, the revision gives them a legal framework to challenge polluters.

The new law gives more punitive powers to environmental authorities, allows a broader range of actions for environmental organizations and defines geographical “red lines” where the area’s ecology requires special protection.

It is the first time the environmental protection law has been revised since 1989.

Lawmaker Xin Chunying, told a news briefing Thursday that the revision will have an important effect on the future of China’s environmental protection efforts. “The revision of the environmental law is a heavy blow [in the fight against] our country’s harsh environmental realities, and an important systemic construct,” said Xin.

China has suffered from the effects of its rapid development, which has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty but heavily damaged the environment.

Air, water and soil pollution have reached alarming levels, becoming one of the key sources of discontent for many Chinese.

Despite official pronouncements to put the environment first, local governments have for decades been judged solely on their economic performance.

Read more at Voice of America

The NRA shoots down a qualified Obama nominee


Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next U.S. Surgeon General, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill, Feb. 4, 2014, in Washington, DC.
Charles Dharapak/AP

By Krystal Ball

We reported last week that the confirmation of Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama’s surgeon general nominee, was in danger because Murthy has advocated gun safety and linked public health to gun violence. Our reporting now appears to be coming true: According to the New York Times, Dr. Murthy’s nomination is unlikely to come up before November if it goes forward at all.

That the National Rifle Association is poised to scuttle the president’s choice for surgeon general is both depressing and absurd.

Murthy’s nomination passed out of the Senate Health Committee with the unanimous support of the committee’s Democrats and even one Republican – Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk. Since then, Murthy has faced increasing opposition from pro-gun senators, right wing media outlets and the NRA. Their stated opposition stems from a letter Murthy signed as a founder of Doctors for America where he advocated gun safety measures including an assault weapons ban, limits on ammunition sales, and mandatory gun safety training. Dr. Murthy has also opposed bans on doctors discussing gun safety in the home with patients.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a likely 2016 presidential contender, has been particularly forceful in his opposition. Paul penned a letter to Majority leader Harry Reid stating that Murthy “has disqualified himself from being surgeon general because of his intent to use that position to launch an attack on Americans’ right to own a firearm under the guise of a public health and safety campaign.”

The NRA has also written a letter strongly opposing the Murthy nomination and announced it would score the confirmation vote. This means a vote for Murthy would count against lawmakers’ pro-gun ratings, placing maximum pressure on vulnerable red state Democrats.

Read more at msnbc.com