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This Week in Health Care Reform - August 14th, 2015

An important stakeholder wades into the drug price battle; new projections predict a bright future ahead for telehealth; and, the latest analysis shows the uninsured rate hitting an historic low.


Week in Review

Large Employers: It’s no secret that drug prices have had an outsized effect on our health spending.  In fact, the latest Medicare actuaries report estimates the increase in prescription drug spending alone last year (from the previous year) to be 12.6 percent.  To put that in context, that’s five times the increase seen between 2012 and 2013 (2.5 percent).  What accounts for the jump?  Actuaries had no doubt, pointing to “expensive new treatments for hepatitis C.”  Having seen what one drug could do to health spending, economists are understandably worried as new drugs aimed at treating far larger patient populations – such as cholesterol inhibitors or oncology treatments – make their way to market.  With our entire health care system at risk, stakeholders across the spectrum have drawn attention to the need to rein-in the unsustainable trend currently governing prescription drug pricing determinations.  A new survey shows that large employers are also beginning to exert pressure to keep their costs down.  Despite their best efforts to keep benefits costs steady next year, more than half of the businesses surveyed in the just-released National Business Group on Health report said that they’ll be forced to more tightly manage their employees’ use of high-priced specialty drugs in the future. 

Digital Future:
Whether or not you agree that the introduction of digital technology to the delivery of health care represents something of a revolution, it’s hard to deny that its application certainly holds promise.  Evidence has already shown that the utilization of telehealth can lead to efficiencies in access and care.  In fact, new areas continue to be identified where telehealth’s deployment would only serve to enhance coordinated care.  With so much recommending it – and as regulatory barriers continue to be overcome – it should come as no surprise that, in at least one area, the use of telehealth is projected to explode.

Single Digits:
For the first time since it’s been tracked, the percentage of uninsured Americans has fallen below 10 percent.  The latest data, made available by the CDC earlier this week, now puts the percentage of people in this country with health care coverage at 90.8 percent.  Regardless of how you feel about the sweeping and still-divisive health care law, the results are hard to ignore.  While many still take issue with its means, it’s getting increasingly difficult to understate its impact.  A separate poll from Gallup, also released this week, examines more closely how the uninsured numbers shake out at the state-level, with specific emphasis on how states’ interactions with the health care law affected coverage.

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Looking Ahead

With the first official GOP Presidential debate in the books, we now have a clearer picture of the field.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Democrats announced that their candidates will share the stage a total of six times in the run-up to their primary. 

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