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Practice Transformation

With the cost of health benefits expected to increase 5% next year, large employers are looking for ways to control costs, according to a survey released this month by the National Business Group on Health. Among the most popular approaches: implementing more virtual care solutions (51%) and a more focused strategy on high-cost claims (39%). What are they worried about? Drug costs. Managing pharmacy benefits—especially the high cost of specialty drugs and therapies—remains a top priority for employers, the survey finds. (Healthcare Dive; NBGH)
Walgreens Boots Alliance, parent of drugstore giant Walgreens, is planning to close about 200 U.S. Walgreens stores as part of its continuing effort to cut costs. That comes to about 3% of stores. The company didn’t release the locations or an exact timetable for their closure. The move is expected to save the company $1.5 billion in the coming years. (Fortune; Bisnow)

Evidence & Innovation

NSAIDs, often used to treat pain and inflammation in patients with osteoarthritis, may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in those patients, according to a research recently published in Arthritis & Rheumatology. “Our results indicate that osteoarthritis is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and suggest a substantial proportion of the increased risk is due to the use of NSAIDs,” senior author Aslam Anis, PhD, said in a prepared statement. (Cardiovascular Business; Arthritis & Rheumatology)
As pharmacogenomics testing becomes more mainstream, the FDA is beginning to intensify regulatory actions against labs and others marketing the tests. According to the FDA, at issue “are claims to predict how a person will respond to specific medications in cases where the relationship between genetic variations and the medication’s effects have not been established and is not described in the drug labeling.” This article presents different points of view on the FDA’s regulatory authority in certain aspects of PGx testing and what information is shared with clinicians. It also reviews recent company actions and highlights areas where more clarification is needed for labs, researchers and clinicians. (360Dx-registration required)

Policy Solutions

Policies that call for aggressive reductions in long-term opioid prescriptions are hailed by clinicians and policymakers alike. Not so fast, warns Dr. Stefan Kertesz, an Alabama primary care physician who also specializes in addiction medicine. Such initiatives—by states and by physicians themselves—destabilize patients’ lives, leave them in pain and potentially drive them to seek illicit opioids—or even commit suicide. His position is not universally shared, leading to sometimes-heated debates among experts. (STAT)
“Unusually high” numbers of lymphoma patients are opting for experimental treatments over approved CAR-T therapies. It’s unusual, Reuters reports, because patients typically use approved treatments before turning to experimental ones. In fact, less than 10% of cancer patients participate in trials. Why is CAR-T different? The cost. The total cost of treatment can run between $800,000 and $1.5 million. Private insurers are still trying to figure out how to handle it, and only this month did Medicare agree to cover the treatments. (Reuters; The American Journal of Managed Care)
Coming soon: Focus On calls for members
The GTMRx Institute is now more than 450 members strong! Our Work Groups are forming, education opportunities are growing and we’re raising awareness with key stakeholders. Stay tuned for more information about joining brief, weekly “Focus On” membership calls designed to keep you up to date on our activities.

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