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This Week in Health Care Reform - January 8th, 2016

Congress kicks off the New Year much like it rang out the old one; what voters care about heading into this election year; challenges on the horizon for the health care law; high drug prices show no signs of abating; and, telehealth promises to enhance the patient journey.


Week in Review

Repeal: Picking up where their Senate colleagues left off, the House returned this week and immediately passed legislation that would repeal large provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  (Prior to the holiday break, the Senate passed their version of the bill.)  Wednesday’s vote shook out (mostly) along party lines, clearing the way for the bill to be sent to the President’s desk, where, as expected, it was vetoed.  While some dismiss the entire exercise as having little to no real-world policy implications, others aren’t as quick to dismiss the political implications of the effort, noting that it represents Congress’ first successful attempt to pass a substantive repeal bill for the President’s signature.

Voter Priorities:
The New Year also brings with it, what’s expected to be, a contentious march to November’s elections.  Having ended the last year on something of a low note, Congress now faces the daunting prospect of legislating under the unforgiving spotlight of a hotly contested campaign season.  Despite the pronounced – and growing – demographic shifts in the eligible voting population, health care remains a top priority for Americans, something that candidates and incumbents – whether looking to stay in office or with loftier aspirations – are undoubtedly attuned to.

ACA Challenges: With so much of the focus on health care heading into the New Year, it’s hardly surprising that a good deal of that attention should be centered on the health care law and, more specifically, what the future holds for it.  Even as the Affordable Care Act continues to find its way to firmer footing, worries persist as to whether the economics or politics surrounding the law will ultimately prove to be its undoing.  Still, some experts believe that despite the changes in the road ahead, the law begins 2016 in as strong a position as we’ve seen.

Rx Prices:
Prescription drug prices continue to exert upward pressure on the health care cost curve.  Having already wreaked havoc on bottom lines across the spectrum (such as for Medicaid and Medicare), the unsustainable rise in drug costs seems poised to resume its relentless march on this side of the calendar, at least if last year’s pace of first-of-a-kind drug approvals can serve as any indication.  With evidence mounting that drug prices’ astronomical trajectory has no economic basis other than that of maximizing pharmaceutical manufacturers’ profits, stakeholders are desperately working to undo the Gordian knot that binds the impossibly convoluted world of prescription drug pricing.  Unfortunately, regardless of the justification behind these pricing decisions, what’s abundantly clear is how heavily these costs weigh on those who need these medicines most.

In looking to identify bright spots in the road ahead for health care, many point to the trends already underway in telehealth as delivering on the promise of a more integrated, responsive health care system.  As technology’s application in the care delivery space continues to establish positive inroads, it’s easy to see why telehealth is gaining in popularity with so many stakeholders.  And, as the system finds growing comfort and familiarity with its widespread adoption, experts believe that the patient journey will only improve.

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Looking Ahead

As we turn the page on last year and take our first steps into 2016, experts offer up their take on what to watch for in health care in the year ahead.  Meanwhile, the Administration maps out its agenda for its final year.

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