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This Week in Health Care Reform - December 2nd, 2016

New analysis points to little relief in drug prices for the most prevalent health conditions; telehealth continues to affirm its value in the health care delivery equation; and, the latest open enrollment snapshot is released.

Week in Review

Rx Prices: Skyrocketing drug prices continue to reverberate across our health care landscape leaving many patients struggling with being able to afford their essential medicines.  While the public outcry has served to shine a spotlight on the issue, experts continue to press for greater sustainability in prescription drug pricing, levying a steady stream of criticism at the pharmaceutical industry and their pricing practices.  Of growing concern, the medicines used to treat chronic health conditions.  According to data released this week by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), many of the medications used to treat five of the most prevalent conditions (depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders; hypertension; diabetes; high cholesterol; and, substance abuse) all saw price increases of more than 100 percent between 2014 and 2015.  In fact, the price of insulin alone has spiked more than 700 percent in the last twenty years, leaving diabetics increasingly vulnerable.
Telehealth Value: A new study seeks to measure the impact of telehealth on managing diabetes.  While the results were somewhat mixed, that researchers even thought to ask the question in the first place points to telehealth’s perceived value in improving health care delivery.  Case in point, a separate study, released earlier this month, suggests that telehealth may be as effective as in-person visits for treating depression.  And, separately, a new pilot program in rural Arkansas is connecting schools with treatment centers across the state.  As telehealth continues to reconfigure how and when and where consumers interact with their health care, its ability to not only ease access but bring about cost savings, too, becomes harder to underestimate.

Open Enrollment:
Some 2.1 million consumers have now signed up for health care coverage via during the first four weeks of this year’s open enrollment, an increase of 167,000 people from the same period last year.  Of those signing up, half a million are new enrollees, while the remaining 1.6 million represent renewals according to data released this week by CMS.  The agency has said it expects 13 million total sign-ups by the time open enrollment closes at the end of January.

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Looking Ahead

As the Election Day dust continues to settle, a bipartisan approach to making the health care law work is urged.  Meanwhile, a powerful stakeholder group anticipates playing a ‘very, very active’ role as that process moves forward.  And, experts predict areas of potential friction for the incoming Administration and the new Congress.

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