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This Week in Health Care Reform - March 24th, 2017

Final open enrollment numbers show a dip in sign-ups; soaring drug costs lead some cancer patients to skip treatments; and, telehealth steadily gains traction.

Week in Review

Open Enrollment Lower: Even as lawmakers worked to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the final sign-up numbers from its most recent open enrollment period were tallied and released.  According to figures made public last week, some 12.2 million Americans signed up for coverage this year.  While that number falls short of the 13.8 million target initially projected, and slightly down from last year’s 12.7 million sign-ups, experts are quick to point out that, current political climate notwithstanding, “the law remains in place for now and is covering millions of people."

Rx Drug Costs:
The rising price of prescription drugs has sent shockwaves across our country’s health care system.  Federal programs, state budgets, employers, providers, and insurers have all raised the alarm over the unsustainable trajectory of runaway drug costs.  Now a new report examines the real world toll that these costs are exacting on an already vulnerable patient population.  According to Kaiser Health News hundreds of thousands of cancer patients are now delaying much-needed care, cutting pills in half, or skipping drug treatments altogether.  With prices for new cancer drugs commonly reaching $100,000 or more a year, these medicines are increasingly priced out of reach.  In fact, in 2013, a study in The Oncologist found that one-quarter of all cancer patients failed to fill a prescription due to cost.  Further, 20 percent filled only part of a prescription or took less than the prescribed amount.  With more than 1.6 million Americans likely to be diagnosed with needing these medicines this year, the financial toxicity of these drugs could mean as many as 405,000 of them rationing their own prescription drug use.

Telehealth Inroads:
While telehealth has firmly established itself as an integral component of our evolving health care delivery ecosystem, many frontline practitioners have quietly assumed the role of silent observers.  However, a new survey looks to give these smaller practices the opportunity to offer up their experiences, examining telehealth’s reach beyond the traditional adopters.  The findings reflect something of a mixed attitude towards the application of technology in the delivery of health care services.  Despite some misconceptions regarding telehealth’s efficacy, the vast majority of respondents recognized that some of their patients would benefit from its utilization.  Meanwhile, a separate study sought to determine how useful mobile health interventions were in pediatric care.  An analysis of dozens of mHealth projects found that parents and caregivers could improve health outcomes and behaviors for children through the use of these applications.      

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Looking Ahead

CMS is expected to finalize this year’s modifications to the Medicare Advantage program on April 3rd.  In anticipation of that, we’ve been asking Health Action Network members to urge their lawmakers to protect the program and its millions of beneficiaries from further, harmful cuts by reaching out to CMS.  Hundreds of you have responded – but, there’s still time to make sure your voice is heard.  If you haven’t already, take action now and ask your elected officials to tell CMS to protect Medicare Advantage.

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