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This Week in Health Care Reform: July 6th, 2018

A new advisory group is formed to see if drug price increases hold up to clinical scrutiny; appropriators boost funding for HHS; and, telemedicine improves continuity of care in rural communities.

Week in Review

ICER Review: Last week, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) announced that it would be forming an advisory group for the sole purpose of guiding the development of a report on drug price increases that are unsupported by clinical evidence.  Having routinely clashed with pharmaceutical manufacturers on the issue of high drug prices, ICER now plans to spotlight price hikes on old drugs that fail to stand up to clinical scrutiny.  The first annual report is expected in January of 2019.

HHS Funding: Senate appropriators advanced a $2.3 billion funding increase last week for the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).  Part of the upper chamber’s larger $179.3 billion budget proposal, the $90.1 billion earmarked specifically for HHS represents something of a return to regular order for the appropriations process.  In addition to a $2 billion boost for the NIH, the bill also includes $3.7 billion in funds to combat the opioid epidemic, as well as $3.4 billion for mental health treatment, prevention, and research.  The plan also places particular emphasis on rural telemedicine.

Rural Health:
Telemedicine continues to expand across the country, making important inroads into previously hard-to-reach areas, such as rural communities.  For instance, in states like Mississippi, which currently suffers from the worst physician shortage in the country, where there are only 186 doctors for every 100,000 residents.  Given this glaring disparity, it’s not hard to imagine the impact that this shortage has on people living in rural areas, especially when faced with hours-long trips to reach specialists or the state’s lone academic medical center in Jackson.  But, as telemedicine continues to find footholds in these far-flung communities, it’s quickly established itself as an essential component in the larger health care delivery model – and, for much more than just access, as it’s also shown to strengthen continuity of care.      

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The question that seems to be increasingly on the minds of lawmakers and stakeholders alike is what’s really driving health care costs?  Most recently, the Senate HELP Committee convened a hearing, inviting experts to expound on what some of those drivers might be.  Among the contributing factors pointed to by panelists was the impact that hospital consolidation has been shown to have on rising health care prices.

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