Health Highlights: Oct. 16, 2014

Two New Drugs Approved for Fatal Lung Disease Time for Consumers to Renew Health Coverage: Federal Goverment

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Two New Drugs Approved for Fatal Lung Disease

Two newly-approved drugs can slow the progression of a deadly lung disease, but there are concerns about the drugs' high prices.

Roche's Esbriet and Boehringer Ingelheim's Ofev were approved Wednesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of people with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, The New York Times reported.

The drugs don't cure the disease -- a scarring of the lungs -- but slow lung function decline in some patients. About 100,000 Americans have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and many die within three to five years of diagnosis.

"It's very exciting to have two approved therapies now for a disease for which there were no approved therapies," Daniel Rose, chief executive of the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, told The Times.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm and excitement within the patient community," he added.

However, Rose expressed concern about the willingness of insurers to pay for the drugs. The wholesale price of Esbriet will be about $7,800 a month ($94,000 a year), which is two to three times more than in Canada or Europe, The Times reported.

Boehringer won't reveal the cost of Ofev until it becomes available in about 10 days.


Time for Consumers to Renew Health Coverage: Federal Goverment

About 7.3 million Americans are being told to return to the federal health insurance marketplace to renew their coverage for next year.

Notices began going out Wednesday to people enrolled in health plans bought through the exchange. They're also being told to update information on their income and family size, and to compare their current coverage with other plans in order to find the best deal, The New York Times reported.

Most people who have coverage through the health insurance marketplace and take no action will have their insurance automatically renewed in the same or similar plans.

Federal subsidies will stay the same, but premiums are likely to change. Some people may not be able to keep their current doctors because insurers can change their provider networks, The Times reported.

At a conference of insurers and consumer advocates, Kevin Counihan, chief executive of the federal marketplace, outlined the steps consumers need to follow.

"Step 1 -- review your coverage," he said. "Plans change, people change. Step 2 -- starting Nov. 15, log in and update your application. Make sure your household income and other information is up-to-date. Step 3 -- compare your current plan with other plans that are available in your area. Step 4 -- choose the health plan that best fits your budget and health needs. Step 5 -- enroll."

Open enrollment runs from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15, but "for coverage starting Jan. 1, the consumer must enroll in a health plan by Dec. 15," Counihan said, The Times reported.

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