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New insurance rules mandate coverage of costs in Washington

In October 2012, a new law took effect in Washington mandating insurers to cover the costs of clinical trials — except the costs of drugs themselves — and possibly increasing incentives to partake in clinical trials.

As trials deal with experimental drugs, insurers before have not covered the associated costs, such as additional doctor visits to deal with side effects, medical paraphernalia, and the like. But now, insurers must cover such additional costs, which previously drove away those who might have participated in clinical trials. The hope is that clinical trials will have an easier time obtaining patients, especially as most researchers are strapped for money and unable to advertise widely.

This regulation precedes similar federal legislation that will be enacted in 2014 as part of the Affordable Care Act. It could impact Washington sizably, as there are more than 400 biopharmaceutical, medical technology, and research institutions in the state, accounting for 34,000 direct jobs and producing an economic impact of nearly $18 billion through goods, services, and personal income.

UW Medicine makes large economic impact

According to a study released by the Association of American Medical Colleges recently, Washington’s publicly funded research has an economic impact of nearly $1.8 billion, ninth in the nation. UW Medicine research alone generates $1 billion a year, with 5,000 students and trainees in various fields, and 21,300 employees overall.

“We’re fortunate to have really excellent faculty, staff, and students competing for research grants,” said Dr. Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine, and dean of the School of Medicine.

As UW is a public institution, most of its funding has to come through competitive grants from the National Institutes of Health or similar federal institutions. Recent economic troubles have led to fiercer competition and cost-cutting measures. Ramsey said UW Medicine seeks to be a leader in controlling costs, as it is a sizable healthcare entity in Washington including four hospitals, UW Physicians — the largest physician practice plan in the Northwest — the school of medicine, and others.

“We’re in an era where we have invested considerable money to answer questions in health we have never had before,” Ramsey said. “I hope all of our supporters can see that this research has so much potential.”

Ramsey added that research collaboration increases as a way to cut costs, and also tailors focus to areas fundamental to the current clime, such as genome sciences. In addition, Ramsey said public health, which can more easily obtain funding given its mission, is another focus at UW Medicine. Ramsey cited the UW Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) as an example.

“It’s only five years old and it’s made a tremendous impact,” Ramsey said.

UW School of Dentistry forms Center for Global Oral Health

In order to increase international collaboration and foster exchanges among students and faculty, the UW School of Dentistry founded a new Center for Global Oral Health (CGOH) recently. Timothy A. DeRouen, professor of oral health sciences and biostatistics, and interim dean of the dentistry school from 2011 to 2012, will head the center. The UW School of Dentistry’s Summer Institute — which DeRouen founded in 1992 and has since directed — draws nearly 500 students from more than 40 countries, so establishment of a permanent center to encourage such collaboration seemed wise. The center will hold clinical, behavioral, and public health research training collaborations with several universities in Thailand.

Reach reporter Garrett Black at science@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @garrettjblack

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