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This Week in Health Care Reform - October 2nd, 2015

A bill to eliminate the looming small group market change passes and is headed for the White House; a comparative report shows how dramatically Americans are overpaying for drugs; and, a new study reinforces the popularity of telehealth.


Week in Review

Small Group Vote: As highlighted in our previous newsletter, earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives took up H.R.1624, the bill eliminating the expansion of the small group insurance market called for under the Affordable Care Act, and would, instead, grant states the flexibility to maintain their current definition of this group (businesses with up to 50 employees).  The bill passed by unanimous voice vote on Monday with little fanfare – remarkable, given the partisan rancor surrounding anything having to do with the health care law nowadays.  While some saw the relative ease with which the bill passed as perhaps a sign of lessening tensions on the health care front, others instead attributed the rare moment of comity as the shared recognition of the harms that would result to small and medium businesses in the wake of expanding the market to include employers with up to 100 workers.  And, late yesterday afternoon, the Senate, using a fast-track process for legislation, approved the bill by unanimous consent, sending the bill to the President’s desk for his signature.  A big ‘thanks’ to all the Health Action Network members who reached out to their Representatives last weekend, asking them to vote “YES” to the bill. 

Rx Price Comparison:
While the issue of skyrocketing drug prices continues to gain prominence in the national discussion – both with politicos and those seeking office – what’s yet to make its way into the conversation is how much more these drugs cost in the U.S. than they do elsewhere.  A newly released study, however, seeks to shine a light on the dramatic difference between what we pay for these medicines here versus what they cost abroad.  Compiled by the International Federation of Health Plans (IFHP), the analysis uncovered enormous price differences for prescription drugs between the U.S. and other countries like Australia, Argentina, Spain, and Canada.  In fact, when it comes to specialty drugs, such as those prescribed to treat cancer or multiple sclerosis, the research indicates that patients in this country are charged up to ten times more than those in other countries.  In light of other objectionable practices employed by the pharmaceutical industry coming to light in recent weeks, it’s no surprise that some are calling for drastic action to be taken to curb these escalating prices.  Unfortunately, absent a well thought-out course correction, the outrageous pricing trend appears to be big business as usual.

Patients' Preference:
The delivery of health care in the digital age has evolved, as has consumers’ embrace of new technologies in interacting with their health care needs.  A small study out of Vanderbilt University Medical Center found this to be true with patients who’d had routine, uncomplicated surgeries stating their preference for online postoperative visits, rather than having to go to a doctor’s office in person.  While limited in scope, the study underscores how, when done correctly, telehealth can improve efficiencies and increase access, while also easing administrative burdens and lowering costs.

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We encourage you to stay involved as implementation efforts surrounding health care reform progress.  Visit the Health Action Network and be sure to let us know what's on your mind.


Looking Ahead

The surprise announcement by beleaguered House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio-8th) that he would be resigning from office at the end of October leaves the GOP in search of a new leader and a new message.

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