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This Week in Health Care Reform - September 23rd, 2016

Stakeholders anxiously eye Congress for continued relief from an onerous tax; EpiPen’s dramatic price increase hits Medicare hard; meanwhile, the opioid epidemic continues to exact an enormous toll; and, public opinion of the health care law takes a slight dip.

Week in Review

HIT Repeal: As has been recently covered, efforts to repeal the harmful health insurance tax (HIT) continue to draw Congressional support.  Given that it impacts nearly everyone – increasing the cost of health coverage for small businesses, seniors, hard-working families, and taxpayers – it’s not hard to see why so many have rallied to the cause of eliminating this burdensome tax once and for all.  When Congress passed a one-year suspension of the HIT late last year for 2017, stakeholders applauded lawmakers’ responsiveness to an issue of pressing importance.  However, the HIT is expected to go back into effect in 2018 – this time with a heftier price tag.  With Congress wrapping up their legislative business ahead of the November elections, the number of priorities that will be clamoring for their attention during the Lame Duck session is only going to grow.  Learn more and find out how you can make sure that HIT relief is among their top priorities.
EpiPen Shockwaves: Also highlighted recently is the growing angst caused by the dramatic price spike seen for EpiPens, Mylan’s life-saving injectable carried by allergy sufferers in case of emergency.  On Wednesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing investigating what’s behind EpiPen’s rising price.  While it’s become increasingly difficult to find areas of comity between the parties, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were fairly unified in their vitriol of Mylan’s pricing practices, which they described as “sickening” and “disgusting”, while taking the company’s CEO, Heather Bresch, to task.  Meanwhile, an analysis was released earlier in the week in which spending on EpiPens in Medicare’s prescription drug program was shown to have increased from $7 million in 2007 to $87.9 million in 2014 – a staggering increase of 1151 percent.  While the number of enrollees using the devices was also seen to have gone up during that period (164 percent), that increase was significantly lower than that observed in total spending on EpiPens.
Opioid Costs:
A new government study estimates that the powerful prescription painkillers known as opioids cost the U.S. economy $78.5 billion annually.  Unfortunately, the financial toll, which includes direct health costs, lost productivity, and criminal justice expenses, only tells part of the story.  With more than 40 Americans dying every day from opioid overdoses, the toll on families and communities is incalculably devastating.  Separately, a two-part investigative series was published this week, exposing how the concerted efforts from drugmakers and pro-painkiller advocates were successful in shaping the policy debate. 
Public Opinion:
Whether or not it plays an integral part in determining the outcome of the elections, Americans are increasingly voicing their disapproval of the Affordable Care Act.  The latest Gallup poll shows that 51 percent of those surveyed said that they disapproved of the health care law, while 44 percent said that they approved of it.  This marks a slight increase in disapproval since the spring, when polling found 49 percent of people disapproved of the law and 47 percent approved of it.     

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