National News

Shelf vs. Script: Why Merck's offloading allergy pills

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 13:08

If you think a licensed pharmacist is the only real difference between NyQuil and Ambien, think again. The two are the product of completely different business models.

"Oh they’re very different," says Les Funtleyder, author of Healthcare Investing. "One is bulk manufacturing, one is heavy-duty R&D." 

That heavy duty research and development? $5 billion. That’s how much it costs to get a single prescription drug to market these days.

Why would Merck want to focus on that business?

"The return on investment is much higher in the prescription market," says JB Silvers, a professor of health finance at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management. He says Merck is well positioned with a strong pipeline of cancer and diabetes drugs. "If you can do well there with patented drugs that have protection against competition, you can pretty much charge what you want."

Not so in the world of allergy pills and arch support. The consumer drug market is all about competitive pricing and catchy advertising

"It’s a volume market, it’s like most retail," says Silvers. "You have a smaller margin, but if you sell a whole lot of it, you do really well."

That’s what Bayer does best. "Bayer is going to be able to leverage their global reach to take these products to places where they haven’t been sold before," says Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalere Health

Mendelson says when it comes to branding, marketing and selling things like sunscreen and nasal spray, Bayer simply has a better machine.

Tweets from Rakesh Agrawal, but with Getty Images

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 13:06

Rakesh Agrawal, a former PayPal executive who "mistakenly" (who can really say?) tweeted some ridiculous and offensive statements about some co-workers, has become the star of his own Twitter soap opera written by his own hand. After Agrawal sent the corporate hate tweets, he apologized and blamed the messages on a new phone.

PayPal then announced, on Twitter of course, that Agrawal was no longer employed by the company and also gave us some wonderful life advice about treating each other with respect, which apparently PayPal felt the need to give the world:

Rakesh Agrawal is no longer with the company. Treat everyone with respect. No excuses. PayPal has zero tolerance.

— PayPal (@PayPal) May 3, 2014

After that, Agrawal sent out a series of messages that were hard to follow, especially without pictures. We searched Getty Images and our photo libraries to see if we could help visualize what is going on behind the curtain:

My guest list builds itself.

— Rakesh Agrawal (@rakeshlobster) May 6, 2014

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Tareq Salahi and Michaele Salahi on February 4, 2010.

How do I give equity to a three year old.

— Rakesh Agrawal (@rakeshlobster) May 6, 2014

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Laura Bush Hosts Annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

I am not hiring at the moment. Got a 100x team that will change the world.

— Rakesh Agrawal (@rakeshlobster) May 6, 2014

Or things will escalate.

— Rakesh Agrawal (@rakeshlobster) May 6, 2014


Your move Stan.

— Rakesh Agrawal (@rakeshlobster) May 6, 2014

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

 Executive producer Stan Lee arrives at the premiere of Marvel's 'Thor: The Dark World' at the El Capitan Theatre on November 4, 2013 in Hollywood, California.

Seriously I need no investors.

— Rakesh Agrawal (@rakeshlobster) May 6, 2014

China's Alibaba Files To Go Public In The U.S.

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 13:02

Alibaba is the largest online and mobile commerce site in the world, controlling a huge portion of the Chinese market.

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An ex-PayPal executive airs grievances (very) publicly

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 12:51

Rakesh Agrawal, a former PayPal executive who mistakenly tweeted offensive statements about his co-workers, later appeared to be doubling down on Twitter by threatening to make a former colleague’s text messages public.

“If you don’t stand up for me, I will start sharing your text messages to me,” Agrawal tweeted to a colleague he referred to as “Stan.” “Do the right thing. Your move, Stan.”

If you don't stand up for me I will start sharing your text messages to me. Do the right thing.

— Rakesh Agrawal (@rakeshlobster) May 6, 2014

Sandra Crowe, author of "Since Strangling Isn't an Option,” a book about working with difficult people, says social media presents real pitfalls for companies.

“People who have a big need for power are going to be able to hold companies hostage,” Crowe said, adding that companies like PayPal can either ignore the tweets of an unhappy former employee like Agrawal, or fight back.

"You can make his reputation so bad in the tech world, that nobody will want to hire him, do business with him, do deals with him, and maybe not even email him,” Crowe said.

Of course, once an employee has been fired, or has resigned from a job, the former employer may hold little sway.

“The ability to extract any consequence is limited, because the individual no longer has the fear of losing their job,” said Stephanie Trudeau, a labor and employment attorney at the law firm of Ulmer and Berne.

Still, as much as this is an age of social media, it is also one of litigiousness. Trudeau says if Agrawal makes public messages that were sent to him privately, he could find himself facing an invasion of privacy lawsuit.

White House Will Let Senators Read Secret Drone Memo

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 12:20

The memo makes the legal case for the government's ability to target Americans abroad using a drone strike. The White House is hoping the decision will head off a confirmation battle.

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As States Vote In Primaries, Voter ID Laws Come Under Scrutiny

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 12:03

Voters in eight states are required to show photo IDs. Some experts say the tide is turning toward striking down ID requirements. Others say not so fast.

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20 Years After Apartheid, South Africa Asks 'How Are We Doing?'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 11:49

The African National Congress should cruise to victory in Wednesday's election. But a party that once represented the new South Africa faces growing criticism for corruption and complacency.

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And the markets breathed again...

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 11:43

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Wednesday, May 7, 2014:

  • In Washington, the Federal Reserve is scheduled to release its monthly consumer credit report.
  • The Senate Special Aging Committee discusses the fight against cancer.
  • Actor Michael E. Knight of "All My Children" fame turns 55.
  • On May 7, 1824, in Vienna, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony premiered.
  • And the Dow Jones closed above 15,000 for the first time just one year ago.

Most Fitness Apps Don't Use Proven Motivational Techniques

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 11:33

I downloaded the app. So why don't I feel motivated to get out there and run? Researchers say the problem's not entirely me. Many fitness apps don't use behavioral change methods that could help.

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Brazil is not ready to host FIFA

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 11:31

Brazil takes the international stage in just 37 days, when the first match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks off. Some experts say the country isn't ready, though a part of that isn't exactly a surprise.

"Brazil always does things at the last minute, and the fact that Brazil is so late perhaps could be predicted," says the BBC's Wyre Davis, reporting from Rio de Janeiro. "I think what couldn't be predicted was this 'perfect storm,'" referring to the crowds of unhappy Brazilians protesting in the streets.

The protests, he says, deal with the fact that $15 billion is being spent on the World Cup alone--without any sign of how surrounding communities will benefit.

"A lot of people are saying, 'Well hang on, what do we get out of this?'" he said. "'OK, Brazil might win the tournament, which is good news for us as soccer fans, but where's everything else that was promised?'"

Among the promises, Davies says, are integrated transport and increased infrastructure. This doubt of benefits has led urban planning professor Christopher Gaffney to proclaim Brazil has already lost the World Cup.

"We've concentrated on the wrong projects, we've overbuilt in all these ways. So in the end, it's going to be a big party, but Brazilians will have a hangover for the next generation."

Alibaba files to go public: Yes, it's that big

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 11:14

UPDATED: Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba Group filed a Form F-1 registration statement on Tuesday, saying it intended to raise $1 billion in an initial public offering. But analysts say the company will likely raise more in the end -- as much as $20 billion. That would make it the biggest since Facebook raised $16 billion in an IPO in 2012. One note: The company says it sells more stuff, and thus generates more package deliveries every year, than UPS does globally.

Analysts have predicted that all told the company could be valued upwards of $150 to $200 billion. Its high valuation is a factor of its scale, its dominance in the Chinese e-commerce market, and its highly successful monetization of its platform through ad revenue.

As a company, Alibaba is often described as a combination of eBay and Amazon, but you could throw in a little PayPal, Yahoo, and Citigroup too. Alibaba has a sizable role in mobile banking and online advertising technology.

So here is a comparison of Alibaba with those companies for some perspective on just how big it is.

No More Bromine: Coke, Pepsi Drop Controversial Ingredient

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 10:43

Chemistry is complicated; that includes ingredients in artificially flavored fizzy drinks. Soda makers bowed to pressure to drop brominated vegetable oil, but its safety hasn't been very well studied.

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U.S. Sending Team To Help With Search For Abducted Nigerian Girls

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 10:16

The team can help with intelligence and hostage negotiations, the State Department said. Nigeria has been criticized for its inability to find the 276 girls abducted from a school last month.

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Big Ambitions And Flawed Technology Tripped Up State Exchanges

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 10:08

Massachusetts is the latest state that was gung-ho on health care overhaul to concede it had failed to make it easy for people to enroll. Oregon and Maryland also scrapped their online exchanges.

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Hospitals save money by doing surgery for free

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 10:00

Across the country, a few hospitals have come up with a counterintuitive way to save themselves money: offer minor surgery for free.

To understand how that’s possible, consider the case of 32-year-old Lammon Green, a caretaker for the developmentally disabled in Macon, Georgia. He’s a really cheerful guy, but he’s been bothered for a long time by a cyst behind his ear.

“It’s been kind of giving me problems for the last few years,” he said. “It gets to about the size of a lemon when it gets infected.”

Most people would get something like that cut off pronto, but Green doesn’t have insurance.

“I actually am looking into the Obamacare now,” he said.

Because he lives in Georgia  – where the governor has declined to expand Medicaid – there’s a good chance Green makes too much money to qualify for Medicaid, and not enough to get subsidized private insurance.

Nonetheless, Green recently found himself in an operating room, drifting off into a chemically induced sleep, while the doctors cut that cyst away with an electronic knife.

Green is one of the first people to come through Macon’s new volunteer surgery clinic. It’s called the SPIN program – Surgery for People In Need. 

The doctors work on Sundays for free, while the facilities and diagnostics are donated by the Medical Center of Central Georgia.

 “This is a way that we can support this program, with patients that we would likely see anyway, that would be in our system because they have a need that hasn’t been taken care of,” said Roz McMillan, one of the hospital’s vice presidents.

In other words, Lammon Green’s lemon-sized cyst was probably going to land him in the emergency room eventually, and since he’s uninsured, the hospital would’ve ended up eating much of the cost.

Cutting the thing off before it gets that bad is a much simpler procedure.

By donating their services instead, the hospital is saving themselves thousands of dollars in the long run, said Laura Ebert, who runs a program called “Surgery on Sunday” in Lexington, Kentucky that started in 2005.

This new free surgery program in Macon is a copy of Ebert’s – literally.

“We have something that, you know, we can provide on disk or zip drive that shows all the paperwork, how to apply for tax exempt status, how to apply for the federal malpractice program,” she said.

Using that template, free surgery clinics have also sprung up in Omaha and Dallas. Ebert predicts that list is going to grow as hospitals realize it’s in their economic interest to help out.

Low income people in many states are getting insurance through an expanded Medicaid, but their deductible for an elective surgery could be as high as $10,000.

“Hernias and gallbladders and things that we do on a regular basis are considered elective surgery, not life-threatening, so therefore they’ll have to pay their deductible,” Ebert said.

That means people are likely to put off their surgery. The problem gets worse, they end up in the E.R., and Medicaid reimbursements are low -- so again the hospital gets stuck eating some cost.

As long as a hospital has a doctor willing to donate her time, it might be cheaper to take out that gallbladder for free.

A Faster Human: Are We Unique In Our Ability To Get Better?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 09:41

For decades, the speed of racehorses and dogs has stagnated. But humans keep getting faster. On the 60th anniversary of the first time a human ran a mile in under four minutes, we ponder why.

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Portland, Ore., Police Criticized Over 2013 Arrest Of Girl, 9

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 09:02

The girl's mother is now telling the story of how uniformed officers arrested her daughter last year, sparking a debate in the city.

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Boko Haram's Local Fight Suddenly Gets International Scrutiny

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 07:53

The group has been around for more than a decade, and the U.S. says it has links to al-Qaida. Boko Haram has now achieved international notoriety by kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls.

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PODCAST: Sell in May?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 07:44

We'll start by confronting the notion of "Sell in May, then go away." There is a saying among investors this time of year, that as we get closer to summer vacation, it's time to take money out of the stock market. To find out more, we consult the often bearish Julie Niemann, the analyst at Smith Moore and company in St. Louis.

Google is rolling out same-day delivery for online retail customers in West L.A. and Manhattan — offering products from a variety of retailers including Costco, Target, Walgreens and L'Occitane. Google has already been piloting the service in the San Francisco Bay Area. Amazon has just launched same-day delivery in parts of Los Angeles as well, along with San Francisco, Seattle and Phoenix. And the two giants aren't alone. Wal-Mart, eBay, Nordstrom and other retailers are also in the ring. But, same-day delivery is expensive and complicated.

What are the odds of an entry-level gambler getting some coaching and winning the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas? Not great, as you may imagine. Grantland writer Colson Whitehead got $10,000 from his employer to give it a try.

The Lost Village In New York City

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 07:11

Razed to make way for Central Park, Seneca Village was a vibrant neighborhood in 19th century Manhattan. Now researchers are looking for descendants.

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