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A high-profile school tech program; a federal corruption investigation and the resignation of the superintendent.
A newly-approved drug for Hepatitis C will be the only treatment covered for many patients whose employers use a company called Express Scripts for their pharmacy benefits.
Last year, Gilead Sciences Inc. introduced a highly-effective hepatitis C drug, with an $84,000 price tag. Those kinds of prices have been more common for drugs treating conditions so rare they are sometimes called “orphan diseases." Hepatitis C, on the other hand, affects more than three million people.
"These were orphan-drug prices for common diseases," says Steve Miller, chief medical officer for Express Scripts. "That’s just not sustainable."
The sticker price on the new drug, from AbbVie Inc., is just a tiny bit cheaper— $83,319— but Express Scripts has negotiated a discount.
The company says patients will benefit through expanded access to the drug, which has generally only been covered for people with advanced stages of the disease.
On the other hand, the new arrangement limits treatment options for patients. It's too soon to tell whether that downside will be significant, says Jack Hoadley, a research professor with Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. AbbVie's drug was approved on December 19, just days before the Express Scripts deal was announced.
"This drug is so recently approved we’re only going to be learning over time whether there are some patients this drug doesn’t work as well for," says Hoadley.
Express Scripts covers about 25 million people directly. It also administers drug benefits for another 65 million through health insurance plans.
People argue for network neutrality on the internet, but what about prescription neutrality? More on the news that Express Scripts introduced an exclusivity deal with AbbVie's new Hepatitis C medication. And Freddie Mac reports there’s a shortage of rental housing, giving a boost to big investors who bought thousands of foreclosed houses on a bet they’d be able to jack up rents. Now they can. Plus, with the coming of the new year, Sony plans to roll out an Internet-based live-TV service on its video game consoles. It's called Playstation Vue, and it will initially have about 75 channels - ones we traditionally associate with cable, like MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. The idea is to marry traditional cable with a cloud-based, Netflix-like user interface.
The new year promises several new Internet-based streaming TV offerings that will look a lot like traditional cable. The planned services from Dish Network, Sony PlayStation and Verizon will be the first to offer bundles of live television channels over the Internet.
Sony Entertainment Network, separate from the film studio which is dealing with the aftermath of an unprecedented cyber attack, is the first out of the gate with its announcement of the cloud-based TV service PlayStation Vue. It began beta testing the service in New York in November, with plans to roll out the invitation-only beta to Chicago, Philadelphia as well as New York.
Sony says it will launch the service in the first quarter of 2015, but has not decided in which markets. It also eventually plans to make the service available on iPads and other devices.
The Playstation Vue is starting out with about 75 channels, such as MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. Sony has not struck a deal with Disney but is in active talks. Disney owns ESPN, the sports channel which is a popular draw among a large portion of cable TV subscribers and commands the highest carriage fees on cable.
"They are under a lot of constraints. They have to pay a lot for content," says Colin Dixon, a media analyst at nScreen Media.
Dixon says Sony not only must offer enough channels at an attractive price, but also manage to attract a young demographic that is avoiding cable.
"The young are much less interested in pay TV service than the rest of the population. So, it's going to be a challenge to get people to change," Dixon says.
Sony, though, says its challenge is different. Many PlayStation users do, in fact, have cable TV subscriptions, according to Sony, but rarely use them because they want a better user experience.
The company says it has not yet decided the price of the service, but promises transparent pricing without added charges and long-term contracts.
The service's primary focus is not going after price-conscious consumers. Sony PlayStation is focusing more on improving the cable TV user interface by marrying traditional cable with a cloud-based, Netflix-like user interface, which allows for both live and time-shifted viewing, and recommendation lists.
Sony's Playstation Vue, once it debuts, is likely to face competition in 2015. Verizon has announced similar plans, and so has the satellite TV provider Dish Network.
Laura Martin, a cable and media analyst at Needham & Company, says Dish Network's plans in particular are significant, because it will be a pared-down, cheaper alternative to traditional cable.
"So, it's a way to go after the low-end of the market, which is the opposite of the Sony product, which is trying to cream skim the top end of the market," Martin says.
In either case, the new offerings aren't likely to threaten traditional cable TV, Martin says, but they will lead to big wins for one particular group.
"The big winners here are the content owners," Martin says. "For example, Turner broadcasting used to have three or four new series a year. This year it has 12, because you can ... sell it to more outlets."