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Concept: Universal health care


International trade deals once focused primarily on tariffs. As a result, they had little direct effect on health, and health experts could reasonably leave their details to trade professionals. Not so today. Modern trade pacts have implications for a wide range of health policy issues, from medicine prices to tobacco regulation, not only in the developing world but also in the United States. The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is a case in point. A massive trade deal now reportedly on the verge of completion, the TPP has nearly 30 chapters. A draft chapter on intellectual property (IP) alone runs 77 . . .

Concepts: Medicine, Universal health care, European Union, United States, English language, Massachusetts, International trade, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade


Since its enactment in 2000, the European Orphan Medicinal Products Regulation has allowed the review and approval of approaching 70 treatments for some 55 different conditions in Europe. Success does not come without a price, however. Many of these so-called “orphan drugs” have higher price points than treatments for more common diseases. This has been raising debate as to whether the treatments are worth it, which, in turn risks blocking patient access to treatment. To date, orphan drugs have only accounted for a small percentage of the overall drug budget. It would appear that, with increasing numbers of orphan drugs, governments are concerned about the future budget impact and their cost-effectiveness in comparison with other healthcare interventions. Orphan drugs are under the spotlight, something that is likely to continue as the economic crisis in Europe takes hold and governments respond with austerity measures that include cuts to healthcare expenditures. Formally and informally, governments are looking at how they are going to handle orphan drugs in the future. Collaborative proposals between EU governments to better understand the value of orphan drugs are under consideration. In recent years there has been increasing criticism of behaviours in the orphan drug field, mainly centring on two key perceptions of the system: the high prices of orphan drugs and their inability to meet standard cost-effectiveness thresholds; and the construct of the system itself, which allows companies to gain the benefits that accrue from being badged as an orphan drug. The authors hypothesise that, by examining these criticisms individually, one might be able to turn these different “behaviours” into criteria for the creation of a system to evaluate new orphan drugs coming onto the market. It has been acknowledged that standard methodologies for Health Technology Assessments (HTA) will need to be tailored to take into account the specificities of orphan drugs given that the higher price-points claimed by orphan drugs are unlikely to meet current cost-effectiveness thresholds. The authors propose the development of a new assessment system based on several evaluation criteria, which would serve as a tool for Member State governments to evaluate each new orphan drug at the time of pricing and reimbursement. These should include rarity, disease severity, the availability of other alternatives (level of unmet medical need), the level of impact on the condition that the new treatment offers, whether the product can be used in one or more indications, the level of research undertaken by the developer, together with other factors, such as manufacturing complexity and follow-up measures required by regulatory or other authorities. This will allow governments to value an orphan drug that fulfilled all the criteria very differently from one that only met some of them. An individual country could determine the (monetary) value that it places on each of the different criteria, according to societal preferences, the national healthcare system and the resources at its disposal – each individual government deciding on the weighting attributed to each of the criteria in question, based on what each individual society values most. Such a systematic and transparent system will help frame a more structured dialogue between manufacturers and payers, with the involvement of the treating physicians and the patients; and foster a more certain environment to stimulate continued investment in the field. A new approach could also offer pricing and reimbursement decision-makers a tool to handle the different characteristics amongst new orphan drugs, and to redistribute the national budgets in accordance with the outcome of a differentiated assessment. The authors believe that this could, therefore, facilitate the approach for all stakeholders.

Concepts: Health economics, Universal health care, Clinical trial, Price, Rare disease, Orphan drug, European Organization for Rare Diseases, National Organization for Rare Disorders


Disease-associated malnutrition has been identified as a prevalent condition, particularly for the elderly, which has often been overlooked in the U.S. healthcare system. The state-level burden of community-based disease-associated malnutrition is unknown and there have been limited efforts by state policy makers to identify, quantify, and address malnutrition. The objective of this study was to examine and quantify the state-level economic burden of disease-associated malnutrition.

Concepts: Universal health care, Barack Obama, Massachusetts


The economic and fiscal crisis of 2008 has erupted into the debate on the sustainability of health systems; some countries, such as Spain, have implemented strong policies of fiscal consolidation and austerity. The institutional framework and governance model of the national health system (NHS) after its devolution to regions in 2002 had significant weaknesses, which were not apparent in the rapid growth stage but which have been clearly visible since 2010. In this article, we describe the changes in government regulation from the national and NHS perspective: both general changes (clearly prompted by the economic authorities), and those more specifically addressed to healthcare. The Royal Decree-Law 16/2012 represents the centerpiece of austerity policies in healthcare but also implies a rupture with existing political consensus and a return to social security models. Our characterization of austerity in healthcare explores impacts on savings, services, and on the healthcare model itself, although the available information only allows some indications. The conclusions highlight the need to change the path of linear, rapid and radical budget cuts, providing a time-frame for implementing key reforms in terms of internal sustainability; to do so, it is appropriate to restore political and institutional consensus, to emphasize «clinical management» and divestment of inappropriate services (approach to the medical profession and its role as micro-manager), and to create frameworks of good governance and organizational innovations that support these structural reforms.

Concepts: Health economics, Medicine, Universal health care, Healthcare, Law, Investment, Implementation, Social security


To be able to curb the global pandemic of physical inactivity and the associated 5.3 million deaths per year, we need to understand the basic principles that govern physical activity. However, there is a lack of large-scale measurements of physical activity patterns across free-living populations worldwide. Here we leverage the wide usage of smartphones with built-in accelerometry to measure physical activity at the global scale. We study a dataset consisting of 68 million days of physical activity for 717,527 people, giving us a window into activity in 111 countries across the globe. We find inequality in how activity is distributed within countries and that this inequality is a better predictor of obesity prevalence in the population than average activity volume. Reduced activity in females contributes to a large portion of the observed activity inequality. Aspects of the built environment, such as the walkability of a city, are associated with a smaller gender gap in activity and lower activity inequality. In more walkable cities, activity is greater throughout the day and throughout the week, across age, gender, and body mass index (BMI) groups, with the greatest increases in activity found for females. Our findings have implications for global public health policy and urban planning and highlight the role of activity inequality and the built environment in improving physical activity and health.

Concepts: Health economics, Medicine, Universal health care, Obesity, Body mass index, Pandemic, Urban design, Global


Canada’s universal health care system does not include universal coverage of prescription drugs. We sought to estimate the effects of adding universal public coverage of an essential medicines list to existing public drug plans in Canada.

Concepts: Health care, Pharmacology, Health economics, Medicine, Universal health care, Drug, Illness, Drugs


Managing expenditures on pharmaceuticals is important for health systems to sustain universal access to necessary medicines. We sought to estimate the size and sources of differences in expenditures on primary care medications among high-income countries with universal health care systems.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Health economics, Medicine, Universal health care, Drug, Pharmaceutical drug, Pharmacy, Food and Drug Administration


Health care reform debate in the United States is largely focused on the highly concentrated health care costs among a small proportion of the population and policy proposals to identify and target this “high-cost” group. To better understand this population, we conducted an analysis for the Institute of Medicine Committee on Approaching Death using existing national data sets, peer-reviewed literature, and published reports. We estimated that in 2011, among those with the highest costs, only 11% were in their last year of life, and approximately 13% of the $1.6 trillion spent on personal health care costs in the United States was devoted to care of individuals in their last year of life. Public health interventions to reduce health care costs should target those with long-term chronic conditions and functional limitations. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print October 15, 2015: e1-e5. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302889).

Concepts: Health care, Medicine, Universal health care, Public health, Health, Death, United States, Massachusetts


Last December, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin ended a 4-year initiative to create a single-payer health care system. The plan was abandoned because of legitimate political considerations, and any other state considering single payer will face similar obstacles.

Concepts: Health economics, Healthcare reform, Universal health care, Health care in the United States, Single-payer health care


U.S. medical students have staged “white coat die-ins” in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but should the medical community do more? Should health professionals be accountable for fighting the racism that contributes to poor health in the first place?

Concepts: Health care, Medicine, Universal health care, Health, Race, Population health, Health science, Biostatistics