And by drug cartels I mean the big pharmaceutical companies. Recently, there was an interesting confluence of drug industry-related stories. The first comes from the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, which found drug companies rank low in popularity, and Americans believe the price of prescription drugs is unreasonably high and industry profits are too steep. There is strong support for allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices, reimporting drugs from Canada and limiting the prices charged for expensive medications. People’s views of the drug industry would probably take even more of a beating if they knew research that shows a drug as ineffective is often simply suppressed, as reported by the watchdog group Health News Review. Suppression of evidence is contributing to excessive spending and poorer clinical outcomes. Finally, a Forbes story probes the possible reasons behind the unusually high drug approval rate at the FDA, including the possibility the agency is being unduly lenient in the approval process.

Taken all together, it seems the time is ripe for Congress to take action to rein in excessive drug spending. However, they may be poised to move in the opposite direction since the “21st Century Cures” bill, which enjoys support across partisan and ideological divides, could weaken the standards for drug approvals. At a minimum, even as we work to expedite the development of new medicines we should ensure all data on clinical trials is made available to the public as demanded by the recently launched All Trials campaign.

When Is Enough Enough?

CBO just came out with its regular update of the long-term fiscal outlook and as sure as the sun rises in the East, it was accompanied by calls to reduce spending on social insurance programs, primarily Medicare and Medicaid. The ritual nature of the call and response got me wondering if there would be any circumstance in which a CBO report wasn’t greeted with a demand to reduce health spending and dire warnings of what would occur if we didn’t. Has anyone noticed the level of spending reduction the Simpson-Bowles’ plan called for has been far exceeded? I thought not. I am in no way declaring victory over health spending growth, it just seems new developments ought to factor into how we approach the question.

No News Is Good News

For more evidence that ACA repeal is an issue that is losing its political salience, see the response, or lack thereof, to the “replace” plans released by several presidential candidates. Maybe it has something to do with the fact the rate of uninsured Americans has just hit a low not seen since Reagan was president?