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This Week in Health Care Reform: September 15th, 2017

Senate lawmakers broaden their health care reform focus, but divisions remain; a deal is struck reauthorizing CHIP; and, a new study confirms that drug prices are getting worse.

Week in Review

Reform Focus: This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee wrapped up its series of hearings aimed at bringing stability to the individual insurance market.  On Tuesday, that meant focusing on the impact that increased state flexibility could have on stabilizing the exchanges.  And, yesterday, the Committee invited various health care stakeholders to offer their perspectives in trying to make the individual market work for consumers.  The HELP hearings represented the larger effort by Senate lawmakers to find a broader, bipartisan path forward in addressing the challenges threatening consumers’ access to affordable health care in the individual market.  Despite these efforts, divisions remain between what a workable compromise looks like for both parties.  Meanwhile, a new report, prepared by the Urban Institute with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was released last week detailing what would happen if funding for the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies was eliminated.  According to their projections, ending CSR payments could increase average premiums by nearly 37 percent and result in 9.4 million uninsured individuals.

CHIP Funding: O
n Tuesday evening, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) announced a five-year funding extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  With the deadline to extend federal funding for the program rapidly approaching, there is a growing sense of urgency to find agreement to protect the program and the nearly 9 million low-income children it covers.  The current appropriation is slated to run out at the end of this month, and many states expect to exhaust their allotments of federal funds later this year or early next year.  The House, which has yet to advance its own legislation, has also signaled its desire to extend funding for the program.

Rx Prices:
In its latest annual drug price report, AARP confirms that drug prices are not only higher than ever, but getting worse.  In fact, according to their analysis, retail prices for some of the most commonly prescribed specialty drugs grew by 9.6 percent in 2015, the fastest rate in the past decade.  Further, the annual pricetag for these drugs came in at more than $52,000 – more than three times what they cost in 2006.  Alarmingly, that cost is only slightly less than the median household income, but still twice the median income for Medicare beneficiaries and more than three times the average Social Security retirement benefit.      

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