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Brainstorm Health: WHO on Cancer Drug Prices, Growing Uninsurance Rate, Migraine Drug Wars

Happy Friday, readers.

Policy – legislative, administrative, and otherwise – has consequences. The ongoing saga of the partial federal government shutdown is proof positive of that (a reported deal released late Friday afternoon may re-open the government, but for just three weeks, by the way).

Policy changes also have a way of building up over time. And recent changes to the Affordable Care Act have had a noticeable effect over the past two years – to the tune of 7 million more uninsured Americans, according to a new Gallup report.

The uninsured rate among American adults stood at 13.7% in the fourth quarter of 2018 compared to about 10.9% in 2016, a few years after the ACA’s individual insurance mandate went into effect. The mandate was repealed as part of the GOP tax law signed by President Trump, and the provision went into effect this year. This represents the highest uninsurance rate in four years.

Those broad-based figures don’t tell the full story. After all, some of the people “losing” their insurance may have never wanted or needed it in the first place (a central argument among critics of the individual mandate).

So who exactly has been losing coverage?

“Women, those living in households with annual incomes of less than $48,000 per year, and young adults under the age of 35 reported the greatest increases [in uninsurance]. Those younger than 35 reported an uninsured rate of over 21%, a 4.8-point increase from two years earlier. And the rate among women – while still below that of men – is among the fastest rising, increasing from 8.9% in late 2016 to 12.8% at the end of 2018,” according to Gallup.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

A Planned Parenthood chatbot. Planned Parenthood has a chatbot of its own – and it wants to answer teenagers’ questions about sexual health, according to MobiHealthNews. The bot named Roo is primarily geared toward teens between the ages of 13 and 17 who have questions about everything from STDs to, well, how to deal with those adolescent urges. (MobiHealthNews)

INDICATIONS

The World Health Organization says cancer drug prices are too high. Here’s a biting indictment from the World Health Organization: The costs of cancer drug R&D “may bear little or no relationship to how pharmaceutical companies set prices of cancer medicines.” That may not be much of a surprise to folks who follow this space; but the WHO report is strikingly explicit. “Pharmaceutical companies set prices according to their commercial goals, with a focus on extracting the maximum amount that a buyer is willing to pay for a medicine. This pricing approach often makes cancer medicines unaffordable, preventing the full benefit of the medicines from being realized,” wrote the researchers. (Fortune)

CVS favors Teva, Lilly migraine drugs. Reuters reports that CVS is taking sides in a high-stakes battle in the migraine drug space, favoring Teva and Eli Lilly over rival Amgen. Amgen’s Aimovig won’t be included CVS’ preferred drugs list – a tactic that could force the biotech’s hand when it comes to the discounts it offers to CVS. (Reuters)

THE BIG PICTURE

Alcohol-free booze is headed for a big 2019. My colleague Grace Donnelly has a fascinating piece on the increasing popularity of alcohol-free booze (yes, the trend goes beyond “Dry January”). It’s not a surprise that consumers are increasingly willing to experiment with health products; but, as Grace points out, this has led to a significant shift in beverage makers’ strategies as alcohol- and calorie-laden products face a bear market. (Fortune)

REQUIRED READING

Two-Thirds of Breastfeeding Discrimination Cases Led Nursing Moms to Lose Their Jobs, by Emma Hinchliffe

Challenging Facebook’s ‘#10YearChallenge’, by Robert Hackett

Microsoft’s Tech Chief Talks AI, Mixed Reality, and Sod Farming, by Jonathan Vanian

A Deal Has Reportedly Been Reached to End the Government Shutdown, by Renae Reints

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

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