This Week in Health Care Reform - May 2nd, 2014
Polling paints a confusing picture for both parties heading into November; a confirmation hearing gets set for the new head of HHS; the health care website remains, very much, a work-in-progress; Sovaldi can’t shake bad press; and, a new telehealth policy is adopted.
Health Care Reform
Polls and the Midterms: Given the amount of press devoted to the last-minute surge of sign-ups on the exchanges ahead of the open enrollment window closing last month, you’d be excused if you assumed that that would translate into the Affordable Care Act enjoying a corresponding bump in its popularity. However, a new poll dispels any such notion, depicting, instead, an American public unwilling to relinquish its unfavorable views of the law. That poll, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that 46 percent of respondents still view the law unfavorably (the same percentage as in the previous month). As we find ourselves moving closer to November, the number of polls coming out, covering an increasingly dizzying array of topics, will be enough to make even the most partisan voter’s head spin. For their part, both Democrats and their Republican counterparts will be quick to repackage any survey results for their respective messaging purposes. One thing experts do agree on, though, is that the health care law will exert considerable influence on the campaign trail. And, while some think that’s a good thing for the GOP, others aren’t so sure.
Burwell Hearing: It was announced on Monday that the first confirmation hearing for the new head of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) will be next week. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the President’s nominee to replace outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee. Burwell is also expected to testify at a separate hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, though a date for those proceedings has yet to be announced. While her initial nomination was met with little resistance (leading some to anticipate a smooth confirmation process), opponents of the Affordable Care Act are expected to use the hearings as a surrogate platform to attack the health care law and its architects.
Under Construction: To say the health care website didn’t get off to the best start would be putting it mildly. The technical glitches that plagued the early days (and weeks) of HealthCare.gov left consumers in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction and led to quite a few on-the-fly course-corrections last fall. On this side of the enrollment period, the Administration has begun the process of seeking out a new vendor to not only run the website, but help prevent a repeat of the problems that hamstrung the inaugural rollout of the site. Meanwhile, despite the platform eventually finding its way to more solid footing, there are growing murmurs that, beneath the surface, things still aren’t working quite right. At issue, the system’s back-end mechanics which, in essence, connect the billions of taxpayer dollars and consumer-paid premiums to the government and insurers. Absent a reliable fix, there’s worry that federal officials won’t be able to accurately determine how many of the 8 million enrollees have actually paid their premiums. This, in turn, could affect just how much the government ends up spending on subsidies.
Sovaldi: The new breakthrough hepatitis C drug from Gilead Sciences continues to find itself at the center of a growing media and political firestorm. Sovaldi, which has been shown to cure most patients suffering from the liver-damaging disease, has spurred an international outcry over its $84,000 price tag. Already, insurers have quantified the costs of covering the drug as being multiple times what they’d originally expected. And now, state Medicaid programs, already under significant budgetary pressures, find themselves grappling with just how to pay for the costly drug.
FSMB Ratification: This past weekend, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) adopted a new set of guidelines for the practice of telemedicine. Given the enhancements offered by telehealth, it’s hardly surprising that insurance companies, employers, providers, and even lawmakers are all anxious to explore the benefits only now being realized through the expanded use of technology to connect patients with care. Among the key provisions of the newly approved guidelines, the model policy lays out that the same standards of care that are in place to protect patients during in-person medical encounters must also apply to any telemedicine interaction. Further, as FSMB President and CEO Dr. Humayun Chaudhry went on to elaborate, while the updated guidelines are engineered to provide physicians with flexibility in the use of new technologies, that in no way preempts their obligation to already established and recognized standards of patient care.
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