Equal treatment under the law. A foundational pillar of American life. Except when it comes to drug makers who benefit from favorable treatment by the federal government.
For far too long, prescription drug companies have profited immensely under a system that affords them monopolistic powers to set prices devoid of government or public scrutiny.
Even during the pandemic, while much of the economy took a beating, the pharmaceutical industry continued to benefit from the high prices they charge. In fact, 9 of the 10 biggest profit margins recorded last summer belonged to drug companies.
As the nation’s economy sputters back, Big Pharma continues to raise prices and block patient access to lower-cost alternatives. It is beyond time to tame the soaring prices of prescription drugs once and for all.
For years, health care players have skirted around concrete actions to truly impact drug prices. Efforts to cut costs for consumers have translated to higher costs for health plans, resulting in a cost shift instead of a cost reduction. We, as private, nonprofit insurers, believe in the ambition and innovation possible in a free market – but the market has failed in this instance and it’s time for the government to take action.
That is why the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP) is putting its support behind reforms that can make a real, lasting impact for consumers and the entire health system. For the first time, a national health care payer organization is stepping up and supporting pragmatic and progressive reforms that can truly begin to rein in the price of prescription drugs.
This includes backing the dramatic step to grant the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to negotiate lower prices for the highest-priced medications for which there is no competition, in addition to other actions.
We are all are anxiously awaiting the approval and delivery of a cure to the novel coronavirus – or better yet, a vaccine.
Amid the race to develop a safe and effective vaccine, some may be inclined to give drug companies a pass on their well-established bad behavior related to pricing and market competition.
But that would be an awfully expensive mistake.
As the COVID-19 pandemic claims more lives and families’ livelihood, policymakers and the public must press drug makers for more information on the products they are developing. The country must be protected against price-gouging for therapies that could bring the pandemic to a halt.
Yes, we need America’s biopharmaceutical companies to develop a cure or vaccine so we can resume our normal lives. And yes, they should be compensated for their work.
When it comes to money back guarantees in health care, it’s
often less about the money and more about the guarantee.
That’s the biggest takeaway shared by two organizations—Geisinger
Health System and Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin (GHCSCW)—that
separately rolled out closely-watched campaigns to refund patients their
out-of-pocket costs for health care experiences that fell short of expectations.
Both programs started as a way to inject a basic level of
consumerism into a process long bereft of one. In fact, as consumer frustration
over medical costs rise, a money back guarantee has the potential to win back a
But like many experiments in health care, the effort
produced some unexpected results as well. Instead of a rush on refunds,
executives from both systems said their money-back pledge served even better as
a continuous-improvement tool, with patients providing almost instantaneous
feedback to staff who felt newly empowered to address problems.
Discouraging headlines remind us daily of the ugly battles between payers and providers. Fighting for their slice of the $3.5 trillion health care pie, these companies often seem to leave the consumer out of the equation. But it is not the case across the board. Our latest research documents that when doctors and health plans drop their guards, align incentives and focus on the mutual goal of delivering the best possible care, patients win.
For example, when SelectHealth in Utah
partnered with obstetricians and refused to pay for medically unnecessary — often
dangerous — early inductions of labor,
procedure rates dropped from 28% to zero, leading to shorter labors, fewer
C-sections and $2.5 million in annual savings for all. When Kaiser Foundation Health
Plan execs collaborated with Permanente doctors around opioid safety, prescriptions
for the often-deadly drugs dropped 40%. And, when Security Health Plan in
Wisconsin enlisted physicians and surgeons to develop a new outpatient surgery
and rehab center, health outcomes improved; patient satisfaction jumped to 98%;
and they saved $4.7 million in the first two years.
For most Americans, $280,000 might represent the price of a home or perhaps their entire retirement savings. But for the 1.3 million people in this country stricken by rheumatoid arthritis (RA)that quarter million dollars could be their drug bill.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating disease that causes painful inflammation and swelling of the joints. Left untreated, it can lead to permanent disability. Thankfully medications such as Enbrel, Humira and Zeljanzcan keep patients healthy enough to stay active and keep working. Yet the price tag is quickly becoming out of reach.
One recent report from Express Scripts found that spending on drugs that treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis rose 25 percent in the last year alone. The annual cost of treating the nation’s RA sufferers is expected to reach $9.3 billion by 2020 – a 45 percent jump from 2013.
For a 45-year-old patient recently diagnosed with RA, the lifetime cost of medication is likely to exceed $1.4 million. Even if that person has 80 percent of their costs covered through insurance, the math works out to $280,000 in copays alone.
There’s something out of kilter when families may be forced to choose between investing in a home or easing a loved one’s pain. Yet that is exactly the sort of Catch-22 some will face if we do not find a sensible way to price drugs.
Anyone who has spent a few years in Washington knows the federal budget dance: President stands behind podium with a fancy seal and flags and unveils a giant tome. The next morning newspapers declare the tome DOA, Dead on Arrival. And we all return to regularly scheduled programming.
This year was no exception. Even the White House seemed to acknowledge the fact by releasing the 182-page blueprint on the same day as the Iowa caucuses with Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz grabbing the headlines.
But budget nuggets have a way of seeping into the policy fabric and eventually taking hold. Legislative staff scrub the document for ideas, not to mention numbers. Candidates steal liberally, adding favorites to their rhetorical arsenal. Eventually, some of those candidates become lawmakers, cabinet secretaries and even president. So the ideas live on.
Happily, President Obama chose his final budget proposal to draw attention to the inexplicable, indefensible rise in drug prices in this country. Our nonprofit, provider-sponsored plans know better than most the clinical value of so many of today’s medications. At ACHP, we have the privilege of partnering with organizations that are in pursuit of the 4Rs – the Right patients receive the Right treatments at the Right time for the Right price. From Capital Health Plan’s Center for Chronic Care, which reduces health costs for the entire community by providing concierge-type care for the sickest one percent of Capital members, to Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin’s pioneering initiative embedding pharmacists in primary care clinics to track patients who may need additional treatment management, ACHP members are working to ensure patients always receive the medications they need.
In Washington, sometimes the most significant developments quietly creep up on you. No epic debate or triumphant bill-signing ceremony, but rather a collection of seemingly small events begin to tip the scales.
That’s what is happening today with telehealth. Almost under the radar, federal and state officials have been giving a much-needed push in support of virtual care. Though the technology has long existed, until recently the money had not followed. And sadly in our current fee-for-service healthcare system, little gets done without a payment code, even if it makes eminent medical and economic sense.
Consider some of the recent action. In November, the Department of Agriculture released more than $8.5 million in health-related grants to 31 recipients in rural communities. Many are using the money to purchase telehealth equipment such as high-quality cameras and broadband Internet.
The previous month the federal government issued rules expanding Medicare payment for a range of telehealth services. Caregivers can earn about $42 per month for chronic care management under the new regulations. Seven new procedure codes were also added, covering such services as annual wellness visits and psychotherapy.
And the end-of-year spending bill approved by Congress designates more than $26 million for telemedicine programs largely in rural communities and through the Veteran’s Administration.Continue reading…
If you’re wearing a wristband that counts your steps, a patch that monitors your vital signs or a watch that tracks your heart rate, you are in the minority. And if you paid $300 or more for any of those items, you are among the nation’s quantified self-health elites.
Judging by the chatter streaming across our social media feeds, one would think every man, woman, child is sporting a health “wearable.” But in reality, these are the early days of the devices that promise to help us live longer, healthier, more active lives.
Despite the buzz, just 21% of Americans own a health wearable, according to a new consumer survey by PwC’s Health Research Institute, and only 10% of them use it daily. Even fewer consumers – 5% of respondents — expressed a willingness to spend at least $300 for a device. Many wearables today are a passing fancy – worn for a few months then tucked away in a drawer awaiting a battery charge or fresh inspiration to get up and get moving again.
As Genentech CEO Ian Clark recently put it, health wearables are “a bit trivial right now.” And it seems even the folks claiming to be wearing the devices can’t be trusted – reports have begun circulating of employees enlisting their more active coworkers to wear the device and collect fitness points on their behalf.
Yet wearables present remarkable opportunities for a nation and industry grappling with the twin challenges of improving health and controlling healthcare spending. Across the board, consumers, clinicians, insurers and employers express high hopes for the power of these new devices.
It’s a provocative question, but it’s also the wrong one.
The question ought to be: When will healthcare fully embrace technology and all it has to offer?
It’s widely known that the $2.8 trillion US health system has significant waste and errors – between 25% and 30% of our health dollars go to services that do not improve health. Technology has the ability to put a big dent in that through standardization, real-time insights, convenient gadgets and complex data analysis the human brain simply cannot perform.
Consider some of the early innovators. There’s the heart monitor in the phone. The wristbands that count steps. And then there’s Oto, the cellphone attachment that snaps an image of the inner ear sparing frazzled parents one more trip to the doctor’s office for yet another infection.
States in more than half the nation have reported individual market premium rate requests for 2015, making this an opportune time to assess how the second year of the ACA’s new marketplaces is shaping up.
With rate filings in for 27 states plus the District of Columbia, the early word on 2015 appears to be expansion. At least 15 of the 28 jurisdictions in 2015 will offer new individual plans this year. Thirty-seven of the 176 health plan filings are new, according to analysis by PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI).
Major national insurers such as UnitedHealth Group, as well as newbie Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans (Co-Ops), plan to add both products and states when exchange open enrollment begins in the fall. In Virginia, five new plan bids have been submitted to the state; Washington, Arkansas and Tennessee show three new plans each.
UnitedHealth’s CEO Stephen J. Helmsley estimates that UnitedHealth will sell on public exchanges in about two dozen states. In short, the ACA’s subsidized exchange markets represent growth opportunities for the health sector.
At the same time at least three non-profit health Co-Ops will move into additional markets. As of late April, Co-Ops operating in 23 states had 400,000 members, according to the National Alliance of State Health Co-Ops. Not every Co-Op drew big numbers, especially those in states such as Maryland, where the online marketplace never really got off the ground. And it’s far too early to say how many new entrants will be left standing as plans are forced to pay back $2 billion in federal loans over the next several years.