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This Week in Health Care Reform - September 9th, 2016

High drug prices hit the Medicare program; what makes the math behind drug prices so complicated; and, how technology improves patient engagement.

Week in Review

Rx Prices & Part D: A new poll highlights just how unpopular the pharmaceutical industry has become.  Released last month by Gallup, their latest survey, ranking 25 different business sectors, saw drugmakers register their worst showing in the 16 years that Gallup has tracked this particular gauge of Americans’ sentiment.  In fact, more than half of respondents (51 percent) reported having a negative view of the industry, with a further 19 percent saying that they felt neutral.  Meanwhile, a separate study only promises to push more Americans into the former category.  Performed by Bloomberg BNA, their analysis targeted spending in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, which currently covers about 38 million beneficiaries.  Between 2013 and 2014, spending in the program rose 17 percent.  More alarmingly, some 200 drugs saw their prices rise by more than 50 percent over that period.

Drug Pricing Math:
With so much attention being paid to the unsustainable trend in high drug pricing, focus has shifted to taking a closer look at the root causes.  Whether or not you subscribe to the argument that prescription drug prices reflect the enormous investment of time and resources required to bring a drug to market, experts are quick to counter that, to a patient, an unaffordable medicine is as good as no medicine at all.  Adding to the growing rancor has been the disturbing trend employed by a handful of pharmaceutical companies that have aggressively raised the prices of older drugs (see: Turing and Valeant).  As stakeholders continue to grapple with the practical toll exacted on our health care system by escalating prescription drug prices, some point to our regulatory system as being partly to blame for the growing turbulence.  Whatever the reasons, lawmakers have set the issue squarely in their sights.

Improved Health through Technology:
Technology’s ability to improve patient outcomes continues to find practical applications across the health care spectrum.  By easing, and in some cases, eliminating, the traditional barriers to care, patients are made to feel more empowered and engaged.  Additionally, it’s been suggested that online and mobile tools can even lead to improved behavioral health modifications.  Most recently, a new study established telemedicine as a safe method of providing monitoring for diabetic eye care.  Despite screening being integral to the early detection of diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to onset blindness, less than 65 percent of diabetic adults in the U.S. undergo routine screening.  However, researchers found that the convenience offered up through telemedicine had the highest impact on patients’ willingness to take advantage of its benefits.  

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Looking Ahead

Congress returns to DC for a legislative sprint ahead of the fiscal year drawing to a close.  And, a new poll takes a look at what health care issues voters most care about ahead of Election Day.

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