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This Week in Health Care Reform - June 3rd, 2016

Republicans offer up a new health care proposal; dramatic price spikes are seen for an opioid overdose drug; and, telehealth helps address access issues.


Week in Review

GOP Proposal: In advance of the comprehensive proposal targeting the Affordable Care Act expected in the coming weeks from the House Republican task force convened by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), new legislation was offered up early last week by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana).  Introduced as the “Healthcare Accessibility, Empowerment, and Liberty Act of 2016” (HAELA), the bill represents a not insignificant softening of the pointed rhetoric with which opponents have attacked the health care law since its initial passage.  In addition to focusing on enacting conservative, market-oriented reforms to how consumers interact with their health care needs, the bill goes so far as to allow Americans the option of staying with their current plans, even if purchased through the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges, leaving some to view the proposal as less a replacement and more of an alternative to the health care law.  Whether it finds political support or gains legislative traction, however, remains to be seen.  If anything, it’s clear to some that HAELA speaks to opponents’ ongoing struggle to find a way forward on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Overdose Spike:
It’s become increasingly difficult to scan the health care headlines without running across a story on escalating drug prices.  The latest such example stands out all the more given how it intersects with another growing issue that’s been making headlines of its own.  The price for naloxone, a life-saving drug used to reverse an opioid overdose, is soaring.  In fact, some versions of the drug have risen as much as 17-fold in the past two years, alone.  The result has led to some emergency response departments running out of the drug, while many public health groups are finding themselves short of the cash needed to stock up on it.  With the two public health crises sharing the same politically-charged conversation space, it didn’t take long for the issue to find itself squarely in lawmakers’ crosshairs, as elected officials have worked to find a solution, legislative or otherwise, to address the growing problem.

Telehealth Access:
Stakeholders across the health care spectrum have recognized the crucial role that telehealth can play in transforming care delivery.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has also embraced its utilization, integrating telehealth into its strategy to correct the inefficiencies that have so plagued the VA in recent years.  In fact, last year, the VA reported 2.1 million episodes of telehealth care, including 400,000 telemental health visits.  And, this summer, the Department has announced that five new telemental health centers will be opening across the country.  With services ranging from real-time video conferences to medication adherence and chronic care management, these initiatives have already shown results: A reduction in bed days by 56 percent; reduced readmissions by 32 percent; and, decreased total psychiatric admissions by 35 percent.  With user satisfaction scores at near 90 percent, telehealth has quickly established itself as an important thread in the VA’s comprehensive blanket of care serving our country’s 5.6 million vets.

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Looking Ahead

The Stop the HIT Coalition unveiled its new website last week highlighting the ways in which the health insurance tax (HIT) unfairly targets working families, small businesses, and seniors.  Efforts to repeal the harmful new tax have steadily gained momentum since it went into effect, leading up to, and including, the bipartisan vote at the end of last year to suspend the HIT for one-year.  Check out the new Stop the HIT website to learn more. 

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