Capital Capsules for July 2, 2001
HCFA is deadlong live CMS. Tommy Thompson, secretary of Health & Human Services, has replaced the name of the Health Care Financing Administration with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS.
The revamped agency will consist of three centers: Medicare Management to oversee traditional fee-for-service Medicare; Beneficiary Choices to focus on Medicare plus Choice, Medicare Select, and Medigap coverage options; and Medicaid & State Operations to handle programs administered by the states and partially funded by the federal government. Thompson said the renaming and reorganizing are part of a series of reforms to make the agency "more responsive to the patients and providers it serves."
Separately, Thompson said he was establishing a Departmental Task Force on Regulatory Reform aimed at cutting program red tape and weeding out redundant forms. He also said he was looking for ways to encourage hospitals to move to paperless systems and reduce errors. He suggested that he might try to require bar codes on all pharmaceuticals so a nurse could swipe a patient's wristband to see what drugs have been prescribed.
Although the FDA has not yet decided whether it will force an Rx-to-OTC switch of three popular antihistamines over their manufacturers' objections, the agency believes it has the authority to do so. Two FDA advisory committees recently decided that Claritin (loratadine, Schering-Plough), Allegra (fexofenadine HCl, Aventis), and Zyrtec (cetirizine HCl, Pfizer) are safe enough to be sold without prescriptions. Janet Woodcock, director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation & Research told a House subcommittee that even if manufacturers protest, "we have that authority." WellPoint Health Networks made the request for the status change.
A new demonstration program will allow community health centers and clinics to cut administrative costs and make it easier to acquire prescription drugs at 25%-40% below AWP, according to HHS. The so-called 340B discount program requires manufacturers to provide drugs at reduced rates. The projects will allow eligible centers and clinics to participate in single purchasing and dispensing systems that serve covered entity networks, contract with multiple pharmacy service providers, and use contracted pharmacy services to supplement in-house pharmacy services.
The 50 drugs most frequently prescribed to senior citizens rose 6.1%more than twice the inflation rate (excluding energy)from January 2000 to January 2001, said the advocacy group Families USA. Leading the list was Synthroid (levothyroxine sodium, Abbott) with a 22.6% increase. PhRMA called the report flawed and said prescription drug prices at pharmacies can "vary by more than 100% within the same city block." Separately, the Common Cause Education Fund tallied that PhRMA and its member companies spent $360 million on lobbying, advocacy advertising, and political donations in the past 10 years.
Mike Conlan. Capital Capsules. Drug Topics 2001;13:20.