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New Cholesterol Guidelines Could Mean Higher Premiums

A jump in sales of cholesterol-reducing drugs could accompany the National Cholesterol Education Program's new practice guidelines on management of hypercholesterolemia — an expense that health plans are likely to pass on to subscribers.

The NCEP calls for more aggressive LDL-lowering treatment, setting targets that it says could reduce short-term risk of heart disease by 40 percent.

Among its suggestions: that the number of Americans on cholesterol-reducing drugs be tripled, to 36 million. Analysts say this could boost sales 20 percent a year for many years to come — a development that health plans are likely to digest by raising premiums. Depending on how purchasers blunt that, possibly through benefit design for this class of drugs, an important policy debate about access may be brewing.

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