The Daily Rise: Thursday, March 3

Proposal to Expand Health Savings Accounts

Sally Pipes, president, CEO and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute, offers a detailed explanation of proposed legislation that would expand health savings accounts.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Congressman Erik Paulsen of Minnesota are proposing a bill that would expand Health Savings Accounts, which allow consumers to set aside money tax-free for health care expenses. The Hatch-Paulsen plan makes three big changes that empower patients.

  1. Ends the ban on senior contributions to Health Savings Accounts. Under current law, seniors can’t contribute to a health savings account after they become eligible for Medicare at age 65.
  2. Allows patients over the age of 55 to make $1,000 catch-up contributions.
  3. Restores patients’ right to use health savings accounts for over-the-counter medicines.

“HSA contributions don’t go to insurance companies — they’re savings owned by consumers,” Pipes points out in her piece at “And the data show that HSA contributions help lower long-term healthcare spending — which is exactly what the Cadillac tax intends to do.”

Every patient should take the time to read Pipes’ piece and learn how to take advantage of a health savings account.

Blaming Style of Vials Takes Miles of Guile

Our co-founder and policy director Jonathan Wilcox breaks down a new study that claims as much as $3 billion is wasted each year because cancer medications are sold in vials that often contain more medicine than is needed for each patient.

This is a problem, and it should be addressed. Only it’s not. This study is from industry gadfly and medical shock jock Peter Bach.

We agree with the study that there are contradictory regulatory guidelines about packaging size and residual re-use. We are eager to hear new suggestions from doctors, since they are the ones who determine optimal dosing for each individual patient based on their specific medical profiles. Working together on this issue that $3 billion can be reduced. But the key is working together.

Taking a medical problem and using it as an excuse to attack the pharmaceutical industry – or any industry – won’t help a single patient become happier or healthier or wealthier.

Tip of the Hat: UCSF’s Dr. Spencer Behr

We love the latest blog post, “Empowering Patients with Innovation,” from Dr. Spencer Behr at UCSF’s Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging. The assistant professor of Clinical Radiology at the University of California, San Francisco describes a new tool that will improve patients’ lives: PET/MRI.

“What’s particularly remarkable is how the PET and MRI technologies enhance each other,” Dr. Behr explains. “The result is a simultaneous procedure that provides better data than either procedure alone — and allows us to significantly reduce radiation by substituting the MRI for the CT, which is normally used for most PET examinations.”

Among the most promising benefits of the PET/MRI is the reduction in radiation, which is particularly helpful for children and patients that require repeat imaging.

“Simply put, being able to get the most detailed and accurate information in a single procedure empowers the patient and the medical team,” said Dr. Behr. “With the characteristics of the disease clearly defined, and the tools available to monitor its progress, they can make the best treatment decisions.”

Why Cures For Cancer Are Possible

Robert Mulroy, a founder and CEO of Massachusetts-based Merrimack, delivers a thoughtful commentary on “Why a Cure For Cancer Is Possible.”

Among other things, Mulroy explains why President Obama’s $755 million for immunotherapy, combination therapy, vaccine development and early detection techniques isn’t the promised moonshot panacea.

“$755 million is a measly sum under the current paradigm drug development,” Mulroy points out. “It can cost a company up to $5 billion and a full decade to bring one cancer-fighting drug to market.”

He also raises an often-neglected point about the moonshot cancer metaphor. The great lesson from going to the moon was “in predictive models based in math, engineering and physics.” Right now, our focus must be on improving the math. And Mulroy provides ample evidence that our priorities are currently backwards as “we build tools before we understand the problem of cancer.”

“Two-thirds of published research cannot be reproduced. In the post-genomic era, the FDA approves only 7% of drugs that enter cancer clinical research. Over the past five years, twice as many trials have resulted in only a 10% increase in approvals. Industry investment in R&D has gone backwards, and with it comes a soaring cost of innovation that drives drug prices.”

The solution: “If predictive engineering was the impetus behind space travel, then systems biology can spur innovation and foster initiatives of ‘cell exploration.'”

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