Monday, March 30, 2015

Weekend update

The FEHBlog's family wedding was everything we had hoped for and now it's back to work just as Congress takes two weeks off. The Week in Congress explains
The Senate and House have agreed to their respective Republican budgets and have adjourned until Monday, April 13th. When they return the process of reconciling the two budgets will begin. Once completed authorization and appropriation bills to authorize and fund all government agencies will begin aiming to result in a completed budget process by September 30, 2015. 
The Senate also will return to complete the Medicare Part B doc fix, and of course there are other matters on the front burners.

Joe Davidson from the Washington Post reports on federal employee union reaction to those budget resolutions.  The lead Washington Post online article this morning is about the skyrocketing cost of Hepatitis C drugs for the Medicare program.  It's worth reading because it debunks the drug manufacturer's principal argument in favor of the astronomically high prices for these drugs.  Competition has been bringing down the costs of those drugs this year. Nevertheless the manufacturers set a bad precedent for pricing drugs which have no competition.  

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning (make sure you are sitting down) that UnitedHealth Group, which has the third largest prescription benefit manager (after CVS Health and Express Scripts) is buying the fourth largest PBM Catamaran for $12.8 billion in cash, subject of course to regulatory approvals.  The article notes that
Insurers and employers are bracing for the prices tied to expected new treatments for cancer and other conditions such as elevated cholesterol. Pharmacy-benefit managers are eager to show they have tools to counter those costs on behalf of clients.
If the OptumRx deal with Catamaran is consummated, each of the big-three PBM players would offer a different setup. Express Scripts has the largest volume in the industry. CVS has its own network of pharmacies.
The new OptumRx would pitch the benefits of analysis and data, including the broad array of health information that Optum’s other businesses glean and crunch. “These capabilities can all be combined with the pharmacy side,” said Larry C. Renfro, the chief executive of Optum and vice chairman of UnitedHealth Group.

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