Top news of the day from across the health care landscape.
Health experts from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have proposed an aggressive plan to eradicate 2 forms of hepatitis by 2030, preventing nearly 90,000 deaths, according to the Los Angeles Times. An estimated 1.3 million individuals in the United States have chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV), and approximately 2.7 million have chronic hepatitis C (HCV). Together, these infections account for 80% of cases of liver cancer worldwide. Currently, HBV is preventable with a vaccination, and the recent development of HCV blockbuster drugs have made the disease curable. However, the committee said the number of HBV-related deaths could be cut in half by 2030 by diagnosing 90% of the nation’s HBV patients, bringing 90% of them to care, and treating 80% of patients for whom treatment is warranted. Similarly, treating all patients with HCV could reduce new infections by 90% by 2030 and reduce deaths by 65%, according to the report. The authors noted that the goal is dependent on diagnosing 110,000 new cases per year between now and 2020, slowly decreasing to 70,000 per year by 2025. The committee called for a coordinated federal effort to manage hepatitis elimination, and recommends expanding syringe exchange for individuals who inject drugs, free HBV vaccine in pharmacies, and unrestricted treatment for all patients with HCV. The committee also addressed the high costs of the HCV drugs, and recommends a voluntary licensing agreement between the federal government and a patent-holding pharmaceutical company to make the drug more affordable for patients.
The Justice Department has recently filed legal papers, joining the California whistleblower’s lawsuit that accuses UnitedHealth Group of fraud in its Medicare Advantage health plans. According to Kaiser Health News, whistleblower James Swoben first brought the suit to light in 2009 and accused the insurance giant of “gaming” the Medicare Advantage payment system by making patients look sicker than they were. Swoben’s attorney William K. Hanagami said the combined cases could prove to be among the “larger frauds” ever against Medicare, with damages that are speculated to top $1 billion. UnitedHealth spokesman Matt Burns has denied any wrongdoing by the company. “We are honored to serve millions of seniors through Medicare Advantage, proud of the access to quality health care we provided, and confident we complied with program rules,” Burns wrote in an email. “…litigating against Medicare Advantage plans to create new rules through the courts will not fix widely acknowledged government policy shortcomings or help Medicare Advantage members and is wrong.”
Four days after Republicans failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act—–which many worried would have a negative impact on HIV programs if passed––more than 600 activists and allies gathered at the US Capitol to push for HIV funding from their congressional leadership, and spread awareness of challenges patients with HIV and AIDS face. Although the failed GOP bill brought hope to patients and advocates for HIV/AIDS, concerns remain that HIV programs may still be at risk under President Donald Trump’s recently released budget and beyond. “Just because the Friday vote did not occur, it doesn’t mean they don’t have the desire,” Joseph Butcher, HIV activist who attended the rally, told USA Today. “This is the round 1 fight of what I think is going to be a 4-year fight.”