To Cut Drug Prices, Start with the Facts

To Cut Drug Prices, Start with the Facts

Americans are paying too much for prescription medicines. State lawmakers are fed up with Washington’s apathy towards high pharmacy bills. So they’re taking matters into their own hands and pushing forward with several bills

Their proposals are well-intentioned — but they’re doomed to backfire and hurt patients. Why? The bills are based on false assumptions.

Many lawmakers believe that prescription drug prices are skyrocketing. They’re not. In fact, after accounting for all the rebates and discounts manufacturers offer, drug prices have barely budged in recent years. Drug spending grew just 1.3 percent in 2016, according to the latest federal data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Overall health spending increased by 4.3 percent.

In other words, drug spending is growing slower than hospital and nursing home expenditures. In fact, it’s growing even slower than the general inflation rate, which has averaged just under 2 percent.

Legislators also blame drug prices for rising costs in Medicaid, the entitlement program for low-income Americans that is managed and partly funded by the states. Once again, they’re mistaken.

Drug companies provide generous discounts and rebates back to Medicaid to curb its overall prescription drug spending. Medicaid’s statistics rarely reflect these discounts. In 2014, the program reported that its gross spending on drugs reached $21 billion. But after factoring in discounts, the program actually spent only $8 billion on medicines.

Federal law guarantees Medicaid the lowest drug prices on the market.

Nevertheless, state lawmakers insist that drug companies are charging too much. So they’re calling for a variety of price controls.

One measure floated in Utah would allow patients to import medicines from Canada. That’s a bad idea.

The policy wouldn’t lower healthcare costs. Ninety percent of all drugs sold in the United States are generic, and generics generally cost less in the United States than in Canada. a patient’s co-pay — what he actually pays at the pharmacy — is often lower than the price paid at a Canadian pharmacy, even if the list price of the medicine is higher in the United States.

Another proposal in Louisiana, would allow the state to infringe on manufacturers’ patents. State legislators want to give generic drug companies the right to make cheap knockoff copies of hepatitis C medicines, which are heavily utilized by the state’s Medicaid and prison populations.

This move simply isn’t necessary. In 2017, Medicaid spending on hepatitis C drugs fell by 28 percent — the biggest drop for any class of medicines.

If states start weakening patent protections, it will have a chilling effect on scientific research. Drug companies won’t plow billions in to developing new medicines if the government can break their patents on a whim. Patients would miss out on future treatments and cures as a result of this drop in research.

This isn’t to say that patients aren’t paying high prices for drugs. They are. But drug makers aren’t at fault.

Middlemen, like pharmacy benefit managers and insurers, are the ones raising prices on consumers.

PBMs negotiate drug prices on behalf of health plans. They secure big discounts and rebates from manufacturers. But PBMs and insurers routinely fail to pass these savings along to consumers. Instead, they hike consumers’ out-of-pocket expenses by forcing them to pay ever-higher co-pays and co-insurance.

If lawmakers want to reduce peoples’ pharmacy bills, they should demand more transparency from insurers and PBMs.

Peter J. Pitts, a former FDA Associate Commissioner, is President of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

Read More

Congratulations, Pope John Hoop Team

Congratulations, Pope John Hoop Team

We join the local sports community and the Catholic Central League in congratulating Pope John XXIII High School of Everett on winning its first basketball state championship in its history.

Coach Leo Boucher and his team that included Chelsea standouts Luis Velasquez and Mehkhi Collins, brought much excitement to their fans this season and many students, alumni, and supporters traveled to Springfield Saturday to watch their Pope John Tigers defeat the defending state champion Maynard High Tigers for the Division 4 title.

It was a great day for the small school who rose up and defeated much larger schools and teams from powerful conferences in the MIAA Tournament. The team’s spectacular guard, Angel Price-Espada, submitted a performance for the ages with 49 points, including 10 three-pointers.

Mr. Boucher, a resident of Charlestown and a former basketball standout himself, previously showed his tremendous coaching skills at the St. Clement School, winning a state title there. When the school closed its doors, Pope John officials made a wise decision to bring him on board as its basketball coach.

It was also inspiring to see school administrators, Head of School Carl DiMaiti, Principal Thomas Mahoney, and Director of Athletics Ryan Murphy being a part of the fan delegation at the game and holding the championship so proudly following the Tigers’ 89-57 victory.

Mr. DiMaiti has presided over athletic successes before as the head of school at St. Mary’s High School in Lynn. A former track coach, Mr. DiMaiti understands the importance of interscholastic sports competition and how it can help build a positive foundation for student-athletes and pave the way to a college education. Mr. DiMaiti’s children, Drew and Carole, were both outstanding high school athletes, with Drew winning an individual state hurdles title before moving on to nearby Tufts University.

Mr. Mahoney is in the Chelsea High School Hall of Fame as the founder and head coach of the CHS soccer program that produced GBL titles and All-Scholastic players when he was leading the program. He is an alumnus of Pope John (and Boston College) as a member of the Everett school’s first graduating class, so this championship is doubly meaningful to him.

Mr. Murphy was an excellent choice to lead the school’s athletic program. He is always accessible to those who call upon him. He has helped student-athletes proceed through the college application process and been an exceptional representative for the school at AD meetings. A school’s athletic success begins at the top, and Mr. Murphy has the entire program heading in the right direction. And now he has a state championship team in his program.

To Coach Leo Boucher, associate head coach Larry Washington, freshman coach Paul Williams, and the Pope John basketball players – thanks for the memories and congratulations on an historic championship season.

We’ll see you all in the Pope John XXIII High School Hall of Fame one day.

Read More

Let’s Not Even Think about Spring

Let’s Not Even Think about Spring

Spring has sprung,

The grass is riz.

I wonder where,

The flowers is? 

Springtime in eastern New England — now that’s an oxymoron if ever there was one.

This Tuesday, March 20, will mark the official start of the 2018 spring season. In view of the trio of nor’easters that have pummeled us in the past two weeks, thoughts of spring no doubt are dancing in all of our heads as we look to put the recent rough patch of late winter storms behind us.

But being the longtime (and long-suffering) New Englanders that we are, we know that spring is merely an illusion in our sliver of the world.

The weather can be sunny with temperatures in the 60s in the vicinity of Route 128, but for those of us closer to the ocean, we may as well be in another climatic zone altogether. Onshore breezes that blow off the ocean waters, where temperatures still are near-freezing, offset the warm air by at least 10 degrees and the wind itself makes us feel even chillier.

To be sure, there may be a day here or there when the ocean-effect will be of no consequence because the wind will be blowing offshore. On those glorious occasions, we will bask in the warmth of a sunny, 70-degree day. But days such as those, always too few and far between, will be only a tease.

The editor in one of our former sister publications, The Winthrop Visitor, put it succinctly when he wrote these words in 1888: “The season has arrived when Winter and Spring appear to strive for mastery. A day almost like June in its mildness is succeeded by weather that smacks of the Arctic regions, and poor human again assumes his furs and his warmest garments.”

Yes, we can hope for the arrival of an early spring season. But we know from experience that spring truly will not arrive for us for  weeks to come.

Read More

Clarifying My Real Comments to John Ruiz

Clarifying My Real Comments to John Ruiz

On Jan. 22, 2018, City Council unanimously adopted an order introduced by Councilor Leo Robinson requesting a Sub-Committee meeting. The meeting was to discuss a proposal by John Ruiz requesting a grant of $475,000 from the city to establish a youth center at the CCC (Old YMCA building). The three-year pilot proposal suggested project activities included boxing, basketball, volleyball, dance/aerobics, STEM-Focused Lewis Latimer Society Exhibitions, and drop-in programs as necessary.

The process of selecting non-profit recipients for grants is a function of the City Manager’s office. When a need in the community arises that the City is unable to meet, the City Manager’s office solicits proposals from non-profits and makes a final decision. Once a grantee is chosen, the City Manager requests funds from the City Council to cover the cost. This is otherwise known as the RFP process (Request for Proposal).

During the Sub-Committee meeting last week, I referenced the process of soliciting proposals, as the involvement of City Council so early was uncommon. If there was a pool of money available to grant for a potential teen center, then all non-profits should be allowed the opportunity to apply. Procedurally, the only time the Council has a say is when it is time to appropriate the funds for the chosen non-profit, after the City Manager has concluded his decision. With the understanding that the burden of decision-making rested with the City Manager, I saw no point as to why this was before us.

However, for the sake of open and honest debate around investments in our youth, I welcomed the dialogue.

Mr. John Ruiz gave an impassioned speech about wanting to give back to the community and councilors did their due diligence in asking questions to gain clarity around this proposed project. Balancing the needs of our youth and where to invest taxpayer dollars is a delicate situation. Yet, as representatives of the community, it is our duty to ask the proper questions to settle concerns.

My personal comments commended the former heavyweight-boxing champ in wanting to give back to the city. I made clear that all proposals were subject to a formal RFP process and encouraged Mr. Ruiz to have conversations with stakeholders (youth, youth organizations) to familiarize himself with the community again and better assess the popularity of boxing. I also suggested that if the champ wanted to give back to the community, he should consider investing in the Explorer Post 109 (which is currently housed in the CCC building). Ruiz’s contribution as a former member of the Post 109 could go a long way for the struggling, 62-year-old youth organization.

Let’s be clear that the City Council does not decide whether we grant Mr. Ruiz funds for his proposal.

That decision-making process rests solely with the City Manager.

The City Council as a body then votes on the appropriation of requested funds in which I am one out of 11 votes. Unfortunately, following the meeting, Mr. Ruiz allegedly chose to turn to social media and misrepresent my comments. At that moment it became clear to me that residents deserved more clarity around the facts as to how things transpired.

As a longtime boxing fan of Puerto Rican roots, I was ecstatic to meet the first Latino heavyweight boxer of the world. However, my fandom doesn’t equate to disregarding my role as a public servant. It is imperative that we continue to secure a fair and transparent process in the allocation of taxpayer dollars. As a longtime youth worker, I am appalled that someone who is proposing to manage a youth center would not look for better ways to demonstrate leadership. I cannot take responsibility for the advice given to Mr. Ruiz prior to the meeting; I did however encourage dialogue and identified ways in which Mr. Ruiz could seek out community input.

Moving forward, I have made it clear to the City Manager that future efforts must remain in his office as it is outside of the scope of Council’s responsibilities. As representatives of our community, we are always available to provide input. However, before anything comes before the City Council a system of checks and balances must be well outlined (budget, zoning, permitting and/or compliancy).

As I look back at where we are, I am proud to see the amazing work we’ve accomplished in the past couple of years. Reestablishing the Youth Commission, reviving our Recreational Dept., increase in youth programming across the city, and creating mentorship for our youth is a testament of our commitment to our future leaders.

This is what’s right about Chelsea.

The mere fact that we are discussing the empowerment of our youth and their need for services speaks volumes as to how far we’ve come. There will be minor setbacks as we strive toward a government that is transparent and inclusive of all. The true test is in how we learn from these experiences and rise above it all. I have the utmost faith in this community and feel confident that we will stand stronger as a result of these conversations.

Read More

America as We Know It Is Over

America as We Know It Is Over

It is difficult to understate the impact upon the future of our country of the Republican tax bill proposals that have been passed by the House and Senate and await a reconciliation between the two versions for a final vote by both.

The most complex piece of tax legislation to be enacted in more than 30 years was devised and voted upon with little or no debate and in the middle of the night (after midnight, actually) in the Senate, with cross-outs and extended, hand-written notes in the margins such that no Senator really knows what he or she voted upon.

However, what is clear is that the tax bill will raise taxes on the middle class — some substantially so (especially here in Massachusetts) — and all but destroy the Affordable Care Act, while giving huge benefits to the ultra-rich in countless ways.

One of the most outrageous giveaways to the ultra-rich is that they can deduct the cost of maintenance of their private jets. Wouldn’t we all like to do that for our cars, the preferred mode of transportation for the rest of us?

In addition, this tax giveaway by the supposedly deficit-hawk, fiscally-conservative Republicans will be increasing the deficit by at least $1 trillion over the next 10 years, and most likely more than that.

All in all, this represents America’s move toward a real-life Hunger Games, in which most Americans barely will be able to scrape by with little or no prospect for economic mobility.

The American Century has been turned on its head — and we never will be the same again.

Read More

AMAC: Aging is a Disease and Science is Determined to Find a ‘Cure’ for It

AMAC: Aging is a Disease and Science is Determined to Find a ‘Cure’ for It

Is old age a disease?  Dan Weber, president of the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC], says a significant amount of scientific research indicates that aging is, indeed, a disease.  “More important there are many who believe it is a disease with a cure.”

Weber cites the work of Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a well-known biomedical gerontologist.  His focus is on extending life spans by intervening at the cellular level, repairing damaged cells and in turn extending life.

Some call de Grey a “mad scientist” but there is lots of independent study being conducted by those in the scientific mainstream to indicate that he is on the right track.

Most recently, researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Brighton in the UK released the results of a study that showed aging cells can be repaired.  They used naturally occurring chemicals to treat aging human cells with remarkable results.

“When I saw some of the cells in the culture dish rejuvenating I couldn’t believe it.  These old cells were looking like young cells.  It was like magic.  I repeated the experiments several times and in each case, the cells rejuvenated.  I am very excited by the implications and potential for this research,” according to Exeter’s Dr. Eva Latorre, one the principal authors of the research report.

Meanwhile, notes Weber, the New York Times reports that the study of the human aging process has evolved to the point where the focus is now on what are called “supercentenarians,” individuals who live longest of all.

“It used to be that a person who reached the ripe old age of 100 was a rarity.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, recently reported that the number of Americans over the age of 100 has grown by 44-percent since the year 2000.  The U.S. today is home to more than 72,000 centenarians,” says the AMAC chief.

But the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University, a leading medical investigative group concentrating on how we grow old, believes healthy aging is all in the genes, particularly the genes of the very, very old.  The study says on its Web site “the genetic influence becomes greater and greater with older and older ages, especially beyond 103 years of age.”

Whether the cellular approach or the genetic approach is ultimately successful in increasing the life span of more people in the future, Weber points out that living an extra long life can be fraught with financial danger.  It will require a whole new way of thinking about retirement.  Modern medicine has already extended longevity and that has resulted in fewer of us being able to retire.  Many more people these days have given up on the notion of full retirement at the traditional age of 65.  We stay in our jobs longer than we might like or we find ways of supplementing our incomes.

But for many elderly Americans, finding work to supplement their incomes is not an option.  Social Security is what puts food on their tables.  It’s their principal source of income, meager as it might be, and they would face cruel hardships if their monthly checks were cut.  For them, the fact that Social Security faces major fiscal challenges in the coming years is a scary prospect.

“We need to focus, as a nation, on how the less fortunate of us will cope in the brave new world of centenarians and supercentenarians.  How will they cope with their everyday lives?  For them, it is not a benefit-it is a necessity and it is imperative that our lawmakers find and enact the fixes that will keep Social Security viable for the long term.  For our part, AMAC remains relentless in its pursuit of solutions in our ongoing meetings with Congressional leaders.  We’ve vowed never to give up and we won’t,” says Weber.

The Association of Mature American Citizens [http://www.amac.us] is a vibrant, vital senior advocacy organization that takes its marching orders from its members.  We act and speak on their behalf, protecting their interests and offering a practical insight on how to best solve the problems they face today.  Live long and make a difference by joining us today at http://amac.us/join-amac.

Read More

Thank You to Our Veterans

Thank You to Our Veterans

Its was 99 years ago this Saturday, on Nov. 11, 1918, that World War I formally came to a conclusion on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month.

Americans observed the first anniversary of the end of the war the following year when the holiday originated as Armistice Day in 1919.

The first world war was referred to at the time as “the war to end all wars.” It was thought that never again would mankind engage in the sort of madness that resulted in the near-total destruction of Western Civilization and the loss of millions of lives for reasons that never have been entirely clear to anybody either before, during, or since.

Needless to say, history has shown us that such thinking was idealistically foolhardy. Just 21 years later, the world again became enmeshed in a global conflagration that made the first time around seem like a mere practice run for the mass annihilation that took place from 1939-45.

Even after that epic second world war, America has been involved in countless bloody conflicts in the 72 years since General Douglas MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender on the Battleship Missouri. Today, we still have troops fighting on battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Niger, and God-knows-where else.

Peace at hand has been nothing but a meaningless slogan for most of the past century.

Armistice Day officially became known as Veteran’s Day in 1954 so as to include those who served in WWII and the Korean War. All of our many veterans since then also have become part of the annual observance to express our nation’s appreciation for the men and women who bravely have answered the call of duty to ensure that the freedoms we enjoy as Americans have been preserved against the many challenges we have faced.

Although Veteran’s Day, as with all of our other national holidays, unfortunately has become commercialized, we urge our readers to take a moment, even if just quietly by ourselves, to contemplate what we owe the veterans of all of our wars and to be grateful to them for allowing us to live freely in the greatest nation on earth.

In addition, let us offer a prayer that despite the drumbeats of war-talk emanating from Washington these days, a peaceful solution will be found for all of our present-day conflicts before they escalate into a full-fledged war.

If nothing else, Veterans Day should remind us that freedom isn’t free and that every American owes a debt of immeasurable gratitude and thanks to those who have put their lives on the line to preserve our ideals and our way of life.

Read More

The Protesting Football Players are Not Disrespecting the Military

The Protesting Football Players are Not Disrespecting the Military

The silent protest that was begun last season by former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in which Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem before football games, exemplifies what freedom of speech and freedom of expression mean in our country.

Kaepernick, and his fellow players who have joined him this year, have been very clear from the outset that their sole motive behind their protest is to express their view that racism is alive and well in America at all levels of our society and that this problem needs to be addressed immediately.

Although no one can doubt the truth of that assertion, we realize there are many who believe that a football game is not the place for political protests and who are upset that the players are kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem.

That’s their opinion and they, like Kapaernick, are entitled to express what they believe.

However, those (such as President Trump) who are attempting to discredit the protesters by asserting that the protesters are disrespecting those who have served in the military are off-base for two reasons.

First and foremost, the protesters never have made any negative statement about anybody in the military or that their protest is aimed at the military. Rather, it is clear that Trump and others are making this claim solely to discredit the protesters as a means of ignoring the serious issue of racism that the protest is all about.

Second however, the playing of the National Anthem before a game never has had anything to do with honoring the military. Rather, the tradition of playing the Anthem prior to the start of  a sporting event has been to show our unity as a nation — every single American — and not limited only to past and present members of the military.

The Anthem before a game makes us realize that although we may be cheering for rival teams on the playing field, at the end of the day, we still are one people, one nation.

Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem — which has resulted in his career being ended (at least for now) — truly was an act of courage and stands as a shining example to all Americans, especially our young people, of their right to protest peacefully in our country.

Read More

Harvey and Houston

Harvey and Houston

Many of us are just shocked as the reports of continued destruction from Hurricane Harvey keep coming in from the Houston, Texas area.  The fourth largest city in the United States is being virtually destroyed before our eyes by Mother Nature.

For those of us who have relatives in the affected areas, their message was as follows: “As of three hours ago we are still in our homes and the water has not reached us yet.”  The speed and duration of the storm has caught all by surprise.  The National Weather Service has run out of colors to show how much rain has fallen in certain areas. In the end, all agree that it will be years for this area to recover from a storm that will have lasted about five days.

Looking at the destruction from this super storm, one needs only look around our community to see similar, if not worse, destruction that is awaiting us.  Communities such as  Revere are just about entirely under sea level.  Winthrop has only two ways out of town, and both are over the water.  The New England Produce Center in Chelsea and Everett that supplies most of the fresh foods to the entire Northeast and parts of Canada would be destroyed by flooding either from a tidal surge or just rainfall amounts that a storm like Harvey has generated. Areas of East Boston along Boston Harbor are prone to flood regularly, not to mention what a Harvey would do.  And the Back Bay and Downtown areas of Boston that are just slightly above sea level would be destroyed by a super storm like Harvey or Sandy.

Unfortunately, experts predict that there is no longer an “if,” but a “when” we will be hit by super storm.

There is very little that can be done, given that many of the areas in our communities now have hard surfaces, such as roads and sidewalks, that prevent natural drainage of excessive rains.  Between rising sea levels and developments in the last few vacant parcels, we are a disaster waiting to happen.

However, there are certain measures that can be taken to minimize the effects of destruction.  Location of utility services such electricity should be placed not in the basement, but on the top floors of houses that are in flood plain areas.  We need to make sure that the water drainage can flow quickly from the catch basins in flood plains to the marshlands that surround communities.

Some of these measures will require a monetary commitment by either the state or federal government to implement.  But as we plan for future developments and infrastructure repairs, we urge our elected leaders to look at ways to get the funds that will mitigate the disaster that will come from a hurricane.

Today, elected leaders from our communities are asking for donations from residents to be sent to the victims of Harvey. We urge all to give what they can, as this is the only tangible help that we can offer at this time.

Read More

School Will Be Back — Drive with Care

School Will Be Back — Drive with Care

With school bells ringing for the start of the 2017-18 school year next week and the week thereafter, commuters will have to adjust to the prospect of schoolchildren and school buses returning to our streets.

All of us who drive to work in the early mornings on weekdays have to admit that not having to deal with cumbersome yellow school buses, crossing guards, and children and their parents darting across busy streets was like having a vacation for the past two months, removing a layer of stress from our morning commute.

If you’re like us, you plan your commuting route during the school year depending on the school-bus schedule — if we’re a few minutes late in the morning, we know we have to adjust our route to avoid the buses.

But our break from those travails of early-morning travel is now over — and once again, we must exercise the utmost caution when driving during the morning rush-hour, when everybody is in a hurry to get to school, work, or wherever.

So we ask all of our readers to please be aware that school will be back in session shortly, and that all of us therefore must be on the lookout for children on their way to school.

Taking a few extra seconds — even if those few seconds might turn into a few extra minutes — in order to exercise safe driving and to obey the laws regarding stopping for school buses and yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks pales in comparison to what could happen if our zeal to get to work should result in a tragedy.

Read More