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Health Notes: Drug costs, prostate care and hospice help

Drugs can be costly even with Part D

Out-of-pocket costs for "specialty tier drugs" will run in the thousands of dollars this year for Medicare Part D enrollees who aren't receiving low-income subsidies, according to an analysis last week from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The nonprofit analyzed 30 drugs costing more than $670 per month that are used to treat one of four conditions — cancer, hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis. Analysts used the costs at a pharmacy in Baltimore, but noted that there's little variance in prescription drug plan costs across the country.

It found that median annual out-of-pocket costs in 2019 for 28 of the 30 drugs studied range from $2,622 for Zepatier (for hepatitis C) to $16,551 for Idhifa (for leukemia), based on a full year of use. The other two drugs aren't covered by any of the plans that were analyzed.

Essentia adds procedure for enlarged prostate

Essentia Health has announced bringing a procedure to the region that's used to treat patients suffering with age-associated enlargement of the prostate gland.

More than 3 million men in the U.S. are affected by the condition, according to an Essentia news release. Men with enlarged prostate gland complain of taking a long time to empty the bladder, urinating frequently and having to get up often at night to go to the bathroom, said Dr. Travis Moncrief, an Essentia urologist.

The procedure, called Urolift, is performed in the doctor's office under light sedation and uses tiny implants to permanently hold open the obstructed pathway that has blocked the urine flow. Most patients return home immediately and experience a speedy recovery, according to the news release.

About 50 UroLift procedures have been done so far by Moncrief and his colleagues, Drs. Nathan Hoffman and Martin Grune.

Employer benefits survey opens

An annual benefits survey for Minnesota employers opened Monday.

Employers who complete the free and confidential survey will receive a report of employee benefit trends, including health benefit planning and goals, medical plan costs and contribution rates and prescription drug coverage, according to a news release from the Minnesota Health Action Group, which runs the survey.

Employers can visit actiongroupsurvey.com for more information and to complete the survey anytime until March 1.

Etc.

• Essentia Health-St. Mary's Hospice is looking for volunteers who wish to help provide compassionate care at Solvay Hospice House, along the North Shore to Silver Bay, the Superior area, Grand Rapids and the Iron Range, and for people with musical skills and volunteers for military veterans. To learn more, contact Katie Neff Dawson (Duluth area) at (218) 786-4020 or katie.neff.dawson@essentiahelath.org; or Katie Bird (Virginia area) at (218) 749-7975 or katrina.bird@essentiahealth.org.

• Training sessions for leaders in classes on living well with chronic conditions, living well with chronic pain and living well with diabetes are coming up over the next three months in Duluth. Learn more by visiting yourjuniper.org.

• Influenza still is widespread in Minnesota, the state Department of Health reported in its latest update. Statewide, there were 50 hospitalizations for flu in the week ending Jan. 26, bringing the total for the season to 356. Five of the hospitalizations for the week were in Northeastern Minnesota. Thirteen deaths have been reported to date statewide, with no pediatric deaths.