Tagged Health Care Costs

Watch: Price of a Brace Brings Soccer Player to His Knees

Telemundo News featured KHN’s recent Bill of The Month story about a soccer player who was stuck paying big bucks for a fancy hinged knee brace. Paula Andalo, KHN’s ethnic media editor, offered advice about how to avoid overpaying for medical equipment you may not need.

You can read KHN’s full story here.

Watch: Price of a Brace Brings Soccer Player to His Knees

Telemundo News featured KHN’s recent Bill of The Month story about a soccer player who was stuck paying big bucks for a fancy hinged knee brace. Paula Andalo, KHN’s ethnic media editor, offered advice about how to avoid overpaying for medical equipment you may not need.

You can read KHN’s full story here.

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ You Have Questions, We Have Answers

This week, KHN’s “What the Health?” panelists answered questions submitted by listeners.

Among the topics covered were what might happen to parts of the Affordable Care Act if a lawsuit now working its way through the courts succeeds in declaring the health law unconstitutional, and how Medicare and Medicaid deal with surprise medical bills from out-of-network providers.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Jennifer Haberkorn of the Los Angeles Times, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Kimberly Leonard of the Washington Examiner.

The panel addressed questions including the following:

  • What would happen to the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” if the entire ACA is struck down, and would newer bills, such as the Bipartisan Budget Act, which helped close the coverage gap for brand-name drugs one year early, prevent this feature of the ACA from being eliminated?
  • Will the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 remain if the ACA is completely overturned?
  • Since surprise medical bills aren’t allowed in Medicare and Medicaid, what happens when an anesthesiologist or contract emergency room doctor who doesn’t accept Medicare or Medicaid treats an enrolled patient? Do they take a lower rate? Does the hospital make up the difference? Why can’t this be applied to all out-of-network arrangements?
  • Statistics show that approximately 5% to 10% of the population accounts for about 50% of total health care spending. Who makes up this population? Are there any reasonable proposals to address the health of this population and perhaps reduce spending while improving outcomes?

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read too:

Julie Rovner: Kaiser Health News’ “Lethal Plans: When Seniors Turn To Suicide In Long-Term Care,” by Melissa Bailey and JoNel Aleccia

Jennifer Haberkorn: The New York Times’ “Insurers Want to Know How Many Steps You Took Today,” by Sarah Jeong

Joanne Kenen: Vox.com’s “Walmart’s $25 Insulin Can’t Fix the Diabetes Drug Price Crisis,” by Julia Belluz

Kimberly Leonard: The [Columbia, S.C.] State’s “SC Inmate’s Baby Died in Toilet: Lawsuits Allege Rampant Medical Neglect in Prisons,” by Emily Bohatch

And, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “For Some in Ga. Prisons and Jails, Diabetes Has Meant a Death Sentence,” by Danny Robbins

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to What the Health? on iTunesStitcher, Google Play or Spotify.

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ You Have Questions, We Have Answers

This week, KHN’s “What the Health?” panelists answered questions submitted by listeners.

Among the topics covered were what might happen to parts of the Affordable Care Act if a lawsuit now working its way through the courts succeeds in declaring the health law unconstitutional, and how Medicare and Medicaid deal with surprise medical bills from out-of-network providers.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Jennifer Haberkorn of the Los Angeles Times, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Kimberly Leonard of the Washington Examiner.

The panel addressed questions including the following:

  • What would happen to the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” if the entire ACA is struck down, and would newer bills, such as the Bipartisan Budget Act, which helped close the coverage gap for brand-name drugs one year early, prevent this feature of the ACA from being eliminated?
  • Will the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 remain if the ACA is completely overturned?
  • Since surprise medical bills aren’t allowed in Medicare and Medicaid, what happens when an anesthesiologist or contract emergency room doctor who doesn’t accept Medicare or Medicaid treats an enrolled patient? Do they take a lower rate? Does the hospital make up the difference? Why can’t this be applied to all out-of-network arrangements?
  • Statistics show that approximately 5% to 10% of the population accounts for about 50% of total health care spending. Who makes up this population? Are there any reasonable proposals to address the health of this population and perhaps reduce spending while improving outcomes?

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read too:

Julie Rovner: Kaiser Health News’ “Lethal Plans: When Seniors Turn To Suicide In Long-Term Care,” by Melissa Bailey and JoNel Aleccia

Jennifer Haberkorn: The New York Times’ “Insurers Want to Know How Many Steps You Took Today,” by Sarah Jeong

Joanne Kenen: Vox.com’s “Walmart’s $25 Insulin Can’t Fix the Diabetes Drug Price Crisis,” by Julia Belluz

Kimberly Leonard: The [Columbia, S.C.] State’s “SC Inmate’s Baby Died in Toilet: Lawsuits Allege Rampant Medical Neglect in Prisons,” by Emily Bohatch

And, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “For Some in Ga. Prisons and Jails, Diabetes Has Meant a Death Sentence,” by Danny Robbins

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to What the Health? on iTunesStitcher, Google Play or Spotify.

Faced With High Deductibles, Patients Are Delaying Health Care So As Not To Rack Up High Bills

Even with insurance, health care bills can be daunting and prompt people to delay care for problems that could have been caught earlier. Women with low incomes who had high-deductible insurance plans waited an average of 1.6 months longer for diagnostic breast imaging, 2.7 months for first biopsy, 6.6 months for first early-stage breast cancer diagnosis and 8.7 months for first chemotherapy, compared with low-income women with low-deductible plans.

Faced With High Deductibles, Patients Are Delaying Health Care So As Not To Rack Up High Bills

Even with insurance, health care bills can be daunting and prompt people to delay care for problems that could have been caught earlier. Women with low incomes who had high-deductible insurance plans waited an average of 1.6 months longer for diagnostic breast imaging, 2.7 months for first biopsy, 6.6 months for first early-stage breast cancer diagnosis and 8.7 months for first chemotherapy, compared with low-income women with low-deductible plans.

Watch: ACA’s Future And ‘Medicare-For-All’ Front And Center As Candidates Line Up For 2020

Julie Rovner, KHN’s chief Washington correspondent, joined C-SPAN host Bill Scanlan Tuesday morning on “Washington Journal” to discuss how health care is playing out in the current political debate. They talked about the Republican-sponsored lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act and the backing by many Democratic candidates of a “Medicare-for-all” health plan, and took questions from viewers about a wide variety of health issues. The video is available on the C-SPAN website.

Rovner also was on NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday” with host Scott Simon to talk about Sen. Bernie Sander’s “Medicare-for-all” proposal. That is available on the NPR website.

Watch: ACA’s Future And ‘Medicare-For-All’ Front And Center As Candidates Line Up For 2020

Julie Rovner, KHN’s chief Washington correspondent, joined C-SPAN host Bill Scanlan Tuesday morning on “Washington Journal” to discuss how health care is playing out in the current political debate. They talked about the Republican-sponsored lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act and the backing by many Democratic candidates of a “Medicare-for-all” health plan, and took questions from viewers about a wide variety of health issues. The video is available on the C-SPAN website.

Rovner also was on NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday” with host Scott Simon to talk about Sen. Bernie Sander’s “Medicare-for-all” proposal. That is available on the NPR website.

Even People With Employer-Sponsored Plans Are Spending A Big Chunk Of Income On Health Insurance

“The affordability trends in the employer market are driven by healthcare costs rising a lot faster than the median income,” said Sara Collins, vice president of healthcare coverage and access at the Commonwealth Fund. The trends may be fueling some of the “Medicare for All” interest, experts say.

Even People With Employer-Sponsored Plans Are Spending A Big Chunk Of Income On Health Insurance

“The affordability trends in the employer market are driven by healthcare costs rising a lot faster than the median income,” said Sara Collins, vice president of healthcare coverage and access at the Commonwealth Fund. The trends may be fueling some of the “Medicare for All” interest, experts say.

Changes To CMS Readmission Penalties Appear Effective In Addressing Unique Challenges Of Rural, Teaching Hospitals

The changes were made to address complaints from hospitals—safety-net hospitals in particular—that they are unfairly penalized in the readmissions program because of their complex patient case mix. For rural hospitals, their average penalties are estimated to decline from $55,268 to $53,633; while average penalties for teaching hospitals will drop from $287,268 to $283,461. Other news from CMS looks at accountable care organizations and primary care accounts.

Changes To CMS Readmission Penalties Appear Effective In Addressing Unique Challenges Of Rural, Teaching Hospitals

The changes were made to address complaints from hospitals—safety-net hospitals in particular—that they are unfairly penalized in the readmissions program because of their complex patient case mix. For rural hospitals, their average penalties are estimated to decline from $55,268 to $53,633; while average penalties for teaching hospitals will drop from $287,268 to $283,461. Other news from CMS looks at accountable care organizations and primary care accounts.

Behind The Scenes, Three Key Figures Are Helping Shape The Democrats’ Strategy On Reducing Drug Prices

Stat offers a closer look at Richard Frank, Lauren Aronson and Gerard Anderson–three of the key figures and Democratic health-policy thought leaders who have been working closely with Wendell Primus, a top adviser for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). In other pharmaceutical news, the Supreme Court dealt pharma a loss by rebuffing Allergan’s efforts to shield patents by transferring them to a Native American tribe.

Behind The Scenes, Three Key Figures Help Shape The Democrats’ Strategy On Reducing Drug Prices

Stat offers a closer look at Richard Frank, Lauren Aronson and Gerard Anderson — three of the key figures and Democratic health-policy thought leaders working closely with Wendell Primus, a top adviser for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). In other pharmaceutical news, the Supreme Court dealt pharma a loss by rebuffing Allergan’s efforts to shield patents by transferring them to a Native American tribe.

Town Hall Audience Erupts In Cheers When Asked About Support For Sanders’ ‘Medicare For All’ Plan

The slice of public opinion at the town hall for 2020 hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reflects broader polling that shows support for a system that guarantees universal coverage. However, when details about paying for the plan are revealed, that support has, in the past, dropped.

Mulvaney: Trump Brought Down Drug Prices For The First Time In 50 Years

President Donald Trump announced last month that the GOP will become “the party of health care,” and news reports suggest he intends to make it a top issue in his reelection campaign.

So when Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, touted the administration’s work on prescription drug prices — a hot-button issue that has drawn scrutiny from across the political spectrum, and one that voters say should be a top priority — we were intrigued.

On “Fox News Sunday” April 7, Mulvaney said: “Drug prices in this country actually came down last year for the first time in 50 years. That’s because Donald Trump’s president.”

This statement is particularly hard to prove affirmatively. Drug prices are measured through a host of metrics and affected by all sorts of political and economic forces.

We reached out to the White House for more explanation. Its staff directed us to a report published last October by its Council of Economic Advisers, as well as to data suggesting the consumer price index for prescription drugs declined in January 2019 compared with January 2018.

But experts who reviewed that data said it doesn’t necessarily support Mulvaney’s claim — and certainly not by the magnitude he suggests.

A Broad Brush, And Some Missing Data

We interviewed five experts who all agreed that, no matter which metric was used, evidence is lacking to unequivocally say drug prices decreased last year. The most generous reading came from Matthew Fiedler, a health economist at the Brookings Institution: It’s “within spitting distance of something that’s true.”

But with more examination, the claim’s veracity became murkier.

“Drug prices” can refer to many things: a list price, a net price (what is paid after rebates, or the discounts negotiated by insurers or other payers), the pharmacy’s price or total national spending on prescription drugs.

Let’s start with the latter. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows total spending on prescription drug prices has climbed during the past several years. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) In 2018, total spending continued to grow, just at a slower pace. That’s a positive trend, experts noted, but it isn’t the same thing as spending going down.

“It doesn’t mean we’re spending less money on drugs than before,” said Stacie Dusetzina, an associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University.

We also examined the CPI data the White House provided. It could suggest that in the past year prescription drugs’ list prices have indeed dropped, and even by a meaningful amount.

But the CPI data doesn’t account for whether manufacturers lowering their list prices have also changed the size of the rebates they provide. That’s essential information in understanding if the real price of a drug — what insurance pays and, ultimately, what consumers pay — has actually changed.

These trend lines also vary depending on the 12-month period they cover, argued Walid Gellad, an associate health policy professor at the University of Pittsburgh. January to January could show a list price decrease, but July to July could show an increase.

Plus, the CPI data includes only drugs sold through retail, or about three-fourths of all prescriptions. That excludes many high-priced specialty meds sold only via mail order, argued Michael Rea, who heads Rx Savings Solutions, a consulting firm.

It also paints with a broad brush — obscuring, many said, just how many list prices are continuing to climb.

This year, the list price of more than 3,000 drugs went up, while the price of only 117 went down, according to data compiled by Rx Savings Solutions. Last year, an analysis by the Associated Press revealed that, from January to July, 4,412 branded drug prices went up, while 46 were cut.

So, Mulvaney’s downward price claim didn’t come out of thin air. But interpreting the data to mean that drug prices are down ignores crucial parts of the prescription drug marketplace.

The White House’s Work

Mulvaney also said Trump has played a key role in bringing down drug prices. When we asked the administration what he meant, a spokesman pointed to their efforts to bring more generic drugs to market — a boost the White House said has fueled competition and helped make lower-price alternatives available to consumers.

But there’s no evidence yet to suggest that the boost in generic drug approvals has that effect. Experts said it takes time for these products to reach the marketplace, create competition and demonstrate a measurable impact on prices.

Indeed, many of those generics, while approved, never went to market. This White House assertion also doesn’t account for high-priced, branded drugs that lack a generic counterpart.

Yes, Trump’s tough talk — accusing pharma companies of “getting away with murder” — may have persuaded some drug manufacturers to hold off on increasing their prices — at least temporarily, or until after the government releases key stats on how many prices have gone up, Dusetzina said. But it’s hard to separate that phenomenon from the pressure also levied by Congress and state legislatures.

For what it’s worth, the administration has proposed many new policies meant to curb drug prices, many noted, such as eliminating some kinds of rebates, or changing how Medicare Part B pays for drugs. But none of those have taken effect — so they haven’t brought prices down.

Our Ruling

Mulvaney said, “Drug prices in this country actually came down last year for the first time in 50 years. That’s because Donald Trump’s president.”

At first glance, CPI data could conceivably support the argument that the list prices for some prescription drugs dipped. But that data doesn’t include many high-priced specialty drugs that drive costs up, and the pattern it illustrates can change based on the time frame selected.

The CPI data set obscures the individual drugs for which the list prices have increased — with far more going up than down. It also does not account for a drug’s true “net price.”

Mulvaney’s statement also does not reflect trends showing that, nationally, spending on drugs has continued to climb, even if that growth has slowed. There is also no evidence to support the argument that Trump himself is responsible for changes in drug pricing.

This claim has an element of truth, but it ignores key facts and context that would give a very different impression. We rate this claim Mostly False.