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This Week in Health Care Reform - May 1st, 2015

Drug prices continue to trigger warnings for our health care system; technological advances help to empower health care consumers; and, Republicans ready their legislative response to the anticipated Supreme Court ruling.


Week in Review

Rx Alarm: For a while now, any conversation regarding the rising price of health care in this country eventually found its way to the subject of prescription drugs.  Last year saw our health care system experience something of a watershed moment with the introduction of Gilead’s $1,000-a-pill treatment for hepatitis C, Sovaldi.  While some hoped that the drug would prove to be more exception than rule, others feared that it represented, what we now know to be, the first volley in an escalating price trend currently at work in the pharmaceutical market, and one that threatens to obliterate our health care system entirely.  With earnings season upon us, many drugmakers have been beating Wall Street’s projections for the first quarter of the year on the backs of new, breakthrough oncology medicines (whose price tags give you a clear indication of exactly why these companies are reporting such strong numbers).  In fact, analysts estimate that a handful of these manufacturers will have multibillion-dollar cancer drugs in the next few years.  And, it’s not just new drugs wielding disproportionate influence on the cost curve.  A new study shows an “alarming rise” in the cost of older multiple sclerosis treatments over the past dozen years, at rates well in excess of the overall growth in prescription drug prices.  Whether targeted to larger populations or aimed at smaller ones, all of these medicines, blockbuster or specialty drugs, carry huge implications with them.  Fortunately, the issue has not gone unnoticed and continues to find traction with policy-makers, legislators, and other health care influentials.  But, even as their long-trotted out defense of ‘drug prices reflect the cost of innovation’ begins to show signs of wear, pharmaceutical companies are adapting to their changing environment and looking to new ways of diversifying their revenue streams. 

Digital Empowerment:
We’ve seen how technology can change our lives.  It’s hard to argue that, for better or worse, we live in a world that’s more connected than at any other time in our history.  As consumers, advances in the digital space have not only improved the goods we buy, but how we, in fact, buy them.  So, it stands to reason that the way we interact with our health care should also benefit from the application of digital technology.  One of the main ways in which this is happening is in the doctor-patient relationship, the bedrock of our health care system.  With the advent of smart phones and tablets, patients are now able to connect to their doctors in faster, more convenient ways.  By helping to eliminate the barriers that time and proximity have heretofore presented in the delivery of care, patients are now more empowered than ever.

GOP's SCOTUS Response:
With the Supreme Court expected to hand down its ruling in the King v. Burwell case challenging the tax subsidies extended to consumers via the federal insurance exchange in a little over a month, stakeholders are anxiously watching the Court for any clue as to how the judges may ultimately rule.  For their part, Republican lawmakers are doing more than keep a weather eye on their Capitol Hill neighbors.  As of this week, more than a half-dozen separate proposals have been offered up in both the House and Senate.  With more expected to be introduced ahead of the Court’s ruling in early June, fissures are beginning to appear in the GOP front, with the more moderate members looking at legislative fixes should the Court rule in favor of the plaintiffs and strike down the subsidies offered through the federal exchange, while the more conservative members are looking to exploit such a ruling as a means of repealing the health care law completely.

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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

Earlier this week, the House Energy & Commerce Committee released the latest discussion draft of its 21st Century Cures initiative.  If passed, the bipartisan legislation would make sweeping changes to our health care system, with particular emphasis on the FDA and the NIH.  As such, experts have already begun to weigh-in on just what those changes could hold in store. 

You can keep up with the latest by following the Health Action Network on Twitter and by liking us on Facebook.