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Oregon Governor Signs Bill To Rein In Prescription Drug Prices

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill Tuesday to rein in prescription drug prices.

Under Oregon’s new law, drug manufacturers who increase the price of a prescription drug by 10 percent or more must inform the state of its research and development costs, along with its marketing costs, profits and the cost of the drug overseas.

“Every Oregonian should be able to access the medications and treatments that allow them to live healthy, productive lives,” Brown said.

“This bill brings greater transparency around drug pricing, an important step toward making life saving and essential drugs more available and affordable.”

Patty Wentz with the group Oregonians for Affordable Drug Prices hopes that as more states pass similar bills, prices will stop rising quickly.

“I think it sends a very strong message to the pharmaceutical industry that enough is enough,” she said.

In addition, the new law requires insurance companies to report the 25 most expensive prescription drugs in their plans, which ones have increased the most and how those costs affect premiums.

As the transparency provisions are being implemented, the law also establishes a task force to look at what additional transparency measures will shine a light on high drug prices.

A spokesman for the drug manufactures group PhRMA says the new law purports to address drug prices, but really only focuses on some cost drivers. He said other drivers include insurance actuaries, wholesalers and pharmacy benefit managers.

Pharmaceutical companies will be required to report on price increases greater than 10 percent beginning summer 2019.

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Oregon Rural Emergency Services Suffer From Lack of Volunteers

In populated counties like Multnomah or Clackamas, emergency services contract to respond in something like six minutes or less — 90 percent of the time. In rural Oregon, emergency response can take much longer.

When you call 911 for an emergency, you expect help to arrive quickly.

In populated counties like Multnomah or Clackamas, emergency services contract to respond in something like six minutes or less — 90 percent of the time.

Bill To Rewrite Oregon's Advanced Medical Directives Passes Senate

advanced directive
The legislation would allow people to appoint a healthcare representative if they become incapacitated.

A bill to rewrite Oregon’s advanced medical directive form passed the Senate Tuesday.

Republicans are worried it erodes protections for people receiving end-of-life care.

Oregon was the first state in the nation to enshrine advanced directives in its statutes.

Democrats Question Trump's Effort To Allow States To Penalize Medicaid Recipients

Senate Democrats are questioning the Trump Administration’s authority to allow states to run Medicaid programs that penalize users.

The Trump Administration released guidance last week, saying states could require Medicaid recipients to work. It said states could do other things like put lifetime caps on Medicaid benefits and impose mandatory drug testing.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and 28 other Democrats have written a letter to acting Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Hargan, expressing serious concern. “The vast majority of Americans who get the Medicaid benefit either already have a job or are unable to work due to age or impairment," said Wyden.

“Harmful ideological policies such as work requirements, mandatory drug testing, time limits, onerous cost-sharing and the like undercut and exceed the statutory authority provided to the secretary under Section 1115 and contravene longstanding congressional intent,” said the letter.

“Ultimately, this leads to poorer health and more frequent use of the emergency room, all of which ends up costing the system and taxpayers more in the long run. Such harmful proposals clearly undermine the purpose of the Medicaid Act, prioritizing ideology over health.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently approved a Medicaid waiver for Kentucky that imposed work requirements on eligible individuals and lockout periods that would hurt low-income individuals.

States like Oregon, that embraced the Affordable Care Act, have secured federal waivers to try to improve care and reduce costs.

The Democrats worry states will use the waiver to reduce the number of Medicaid recipients in areas where the act isn't popular.

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OSU Holds Student Vaccination Clinics For Meningococcal B

Oregon State University is holding mass vaccination clinics at its Corvallis campus to deal with a Meningococcal disease outbreak.

The clinics are part of an attempt by the university to control the spread of the disease, which has so far infected six students since November.

"We believe our students’ public health is very, very essential," said Steve Clark, vice president of university relations and marketing for OSU.

The disease is a serious, potentially fatal infection that can cause meningitis or a serious blood infection.

The clock to get all OSU students vaccinated began ticking in December last year, when the university began requiring all students age 25 and under to get immunized.

According to its website, OSU already required incoming students to get Meningococcal B vaccinations before expanding the requirement to all students.

Students have until Feb. 15 to get two of the required vaccinations. Those who don't get vaccinated won't be able to register for classes in the spring or receive final grades for the winter term.

"We’re very definite about this," Clark said. "It is so important that they act now."

So far, approximately 60 percent of OSU's 25,000 students have gotten at least one of the two required vaccines. About 9,000 more have not gotten vaccinated at all.

There are medical and non-medical exemptions for students, as required by state law. If an exemption is requested, the university says it's requiring students meet with a medical care provider to understand the risk of the disease.

The vaccine costs $235 a dose, which Clark says is covered under the Oregon Health Plan and a health insurance plan students can purchase through the university.

"We're going to work with them to determine ways that they can, in fact, be vaccinated," he said.

The OSU MenB clinic runs through Jan. 13.

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80 Homeless People Died In Multnomah County In 2016

Eighty people who were homeless in Multnomah County died in 2016, according to a report released Thursday.

That's similar to the number of deaths of homeless people the county recorded in 2015: 88, the highest number since the record-keeping began.  

The report is titled “Domicile Unknown,” after the box the medical examiner marks on paperwork to indicate a person was homeless.

The report highlights the dramatically lower life expectancy of people who live on the street. 

Most of the 80 houseless people who died in 2016 were men. They were, on average, 51 years old at death. The homeless women who died were, on average, even younger, at 43 years old.

Many of them died in outdoor public places, but homeless people also died in hospitals. Others were found in motels, shelters, cars and in the river.

Their causes of death included accidents, illness, suicide and homicide. In half of the deaths, drug or alcohol toxicity was the cause or a contributing factor. Heroin and prescription opioids were noted in 19 people, or close to one-quarter of all homeless deaths in 2016. 

The report is part of the legacy of local advocate and journalist Israel Bayer.

Bayer, the longtime executive director of the weekly paper Streetroots, pressed the county to track deaths of homeless people. He says his goal was to honor the dead and to compel people to take action to help end homelessness.

“Given the fact that dozens of people are dying on our streets every year, it shows that homelessness remains an emergency situation that we have to be able to prioritize,” Bayer said.

Bayer says the latest report reveals “the scale of the poverty that is affecting our sisters, fathers, mothers and neighbors.”

The report is based on data gathered by the Oregon State Medical Examiner and the Multnomah County Medical examiner. Those agencies investigate suspicious or unattended deaths, including accidental or violent deaths or overdoses.

The county health department does further research into cases the medical examiner flags as people who were likely homeless.

“It does not capture all deaths among people who were homeless, such as those who died in a hospital of natural causes. As a result, it is almost certainly an undercount,” the report notes.  

Ninety-one deaths in 2016 were initially coded “domicile unknown” by the medical examiners.  

Reviewers ultimately confirmed 80 of those deaths as people who were experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County.

Eleven cases were excluded from the county’s official tally and analysis.

Those included six people that reviewers determined were likely not homeless, three who records indicated died in Multnomah County but were transient in another county, and two infant or fetal deaths with mothers who likely were transient in another county.

The Domicile Unknown project has identified 359 deaths in Multnomah County since the first report in 2011.

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Health Report Due This Month Delayed As Bullseye Glass Launches Federal Case

The Oregon Health Authority is pushing back release of a public health assessment on airborne hazards in the vicinity of the southeast Portland production headquarters of Bullseye Glass.

The assessment, scheduled for release this month, was delayed as the company’s attorneys prepared to file a $30 million lawsuit against Oregon.

A Dec. 8 letter from the Oregon Health Authority to community partners notified them that the key health report, promised for early- to mid-December, would be pushed back for a “significant extension” until sometime in 2018.

OHA, working with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, has spent more than a year gathering air, soil and water data to monitor health risk in the area near Bullseye's southeast Portland headquarters.

One of those data sets included air samples from October 2015, as part of a study by the Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Forest Service. The study's goal was to determine whether moss can tell scientists more about toxins in the air. It was that same study that set off alarm bells about heavy metals near Bullseye and other industrial companies in Portland.

 

After obtaining draft versions of the health assessment via a public records request, Bullseye’s attorneys are planning to challenge the draft. OHA has since promised to review the data because of a potential error.

Oregon DEQ spokeswoman Laura Gleim said the standard procedure is to compare the filters holding field samples with blank filters carrying no sample material. If the metal amounts are similar, the samples may not be enough to show a correlation.

That comparison wasn’t done for the October 2015 samples.

In this case, two of the eighteen filters showed significantly more chromium than the blank filters. Still, Gleim said, DEQ is confident the samples related to Bullseye are accurate.

Bullseye Vice President Jim Jones said there was no relationship between the timing of the company’s queries to OHA and the federal court filing.

“Data was used by government agencies in a rush to judgement based on faulty science,” Jones said.

OHA’s letter indicated that only chromium pollution data collected in October 2015 is under scrutiny, it also warns the draft health report in circulation “should not be relied on for any purpose.”

The state will now take on a review of whether the data should remain in the report. That means Portlanders who live in the area and are anxious to see the full report will have to wait a bit more.

OHA said it hopes to publish the full health assessment sometime next year.

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