ObamaCare: Take what you like and leave the rest?

The Affordable Care Act. ACA. ObamaCare. Federal health reform. It really doesn’t matter what you call it. Parts of it are loved, parts of it are hated.

There are a lot of predictions about what the new Congress and President will do with the ACA. While no one knows for sure what will happen, a huge part of the conversation is about keeping the popular parts and getting rid of the rest. This cartoon does a good job showing how that could, and couldn’t, work.

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Insulin has been around since 1921. Why is it so expensive now?

The Washington Post has an interesting story on the history of insulin and treatment for Type 1 diabetes.
Here’s a PDF of the article.

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WalletHub’s “Best Healthcare Systems” Ranking

A recently released study of health care quality, access and affordability across the United States has named Minnesota’s health care systems the best in the nation.  The study, conducted by consumer finance website WalletHub, considered a wide range of measures, from cancer rates to dental visits to health insurance premiums.  We owe our state’s excellence to the caring and dedicated people – health care providers, insurers, policymakers and volunteers – whose daily work makes Minnesota a national leader.  We also recognize the need to keep moving. We must expand the scope of our caring to make health possible for all Minnesotans.

For too many of us, our highly ranked health care is still out of reach.   Those of us who live far from big cities, Minnesotans of color and newcomers to our state, still have a hard time finding the care they need and many suffer from poorer health. That’s what we learn from research by Minnesota Community Measurement, one of the nation’s leading centers for health research. As we celebrate the excellence of our state’s health care systems, it’s vital to remember that there is still work to be done.

If we believe that the people of Minnesota can live up to our national reputation for health and well being, then we must continue to work together to make our excellent health care affordable and accessible for everyone.

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Bloomberg: How marketing turned the EpiPen into a billion-dollar business

A quick Google search for “EpiPen” brings back more than 3.4 million hits.  You’ll find story after story about how expensive this life saving medication has become. EPIPEN2PAK03mgpng

It’s an example we’ve used in the past to show how prescriptions are more and more expensive. When a new company bought EpiPen in 2007, the wholesale price for a pen was $57. Today, it’s more than $285 each. As a commentator pointed out last fall when writing about other medications, we’re all paying for the increased expense of prescriptions, whether you take any medications or not. These increases show up in the health insurance premiums we pay every month. Last year in Minnesota, expenses for prescription drugs bought at community pharmacies jumped 7 percent. In 2014, our year-to-year comparison showed a 23 percent jump.

Today the company that sells EpiPen offered some people who need the prescription a coupon for about a 50 percent discount. In announcing the assistance, the company’s CEO said that they never intended for the people who need the medication to pay the full price. (Personally, I can’t help but wonder how the EpiPen company thinks health insurers get the money to pay for the medication. It’s people—individuals and/or employers—who pay premiums every month.)

Anyway, about this time last year, Bloomberg Businessweek published a story titled, How Marketing Turned the EpiPen Into a Billion-Dollar Business. The story takes the reader through what it calls a “textbook case in savvy brand building” that had EpiPen accounting for 40 percent of its company’s profits in 2014. As I read the story, I remember thinking that while it is good news the company’s shareholders, it increases the amount people pay each month for health insurance. Somehow we, as a society, have to figure out a better balance.



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Another day, another article about the expense of prescriptions

A new report came out last week pointing to how much we spend on prescription drugs. This time it’s the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services planning and evaluation office that showed prescription spending continues to rise faster than any other expenses for care. The report is here.

This isn’t news, we know. But what’s interesting to follow is the conversation about how this increasing expense affects our daily lives. We all feel the increase in the health insurance premiums we pay each month. And you can’t watch TV or read a magazine without seeing drug company ads. (One night while watching CBS I kept track of the ads and then checked their costs online.  When one drug advertised during Wheel of Fortune was $345,000, I quit counting.)

A few stories and commentaries really show what my Grandpa would call the “chicken and the egg” problem with prescriptions. One reason drugs are so expensive, says one commentator, is that Medicare can’t say no. “The real problem is that Medicare can very rarely say ‘No way’ to a drug company. Medicare beneficiaries wanted the program to cover most drugs that older people would want to use,” the reasoning goes.

Then there is the story this week, sharing concerns that a federal plan to look at lowering drug spending isn’t fair to people who have Medicare insurance. (This NY Times editorial helped me somewhat understand what Medicare is trying and why.) While there is concern that the government’s plan is unfair, there are also concern from diabetes and cancer doctors that something has to be done to lower the cost of drugs so their patients can afford their medications.

I don’t have solutions to share. What I do know is that figuring out what to do will take all of us working together. As a commentator pointed out last fall, we’re all paying for the increased expense of prescription, whether you take any medications or not.

In the meantime, stories will continue to add to the conversation. (And probably won’t offer a solution either.) Later this spring we’ll have information on how much spending on prescription drugs went up in Minnesota in 2015. Last year, our year-to-year comparison showed a 23 percent jump in expenses for prescription drugs bought at community pharmacies.  The report from last year is here, and here you will see one way health insurers that work with the Council make sure the prescriptions we take are as safe, as effective and as affordable as possible.

                                                                                                                                                -Eileen Smith





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Minnesota earned an A; congrats

Not a regular reader of Forbes magazine? Neither am I. So I missed this cool article that reported on information to help us understand if we’re getting excellent care. First the bad news: 43 states flunked. But the good news is Minnesota is one of three states (along with California and Washington) to earn an A.

“The vast majority of Americans simply don’t have access to local information on the quality of physician care,” the story states. It also notes our efforts here in Minnesota are increasingly looked at as a model because Minnesota HealthScores is a statewide effort to compare clinics on the success of the care and treatment, along with how people feel about their experience at the clinic.

Minnesota’s work, through MN Community Measurement, is unique because the information isn’t just one health insurance company’s ranking, the data to create the reports come directly from the clinics for the most part.

Read the original Forbes article.

-Eileen Smith

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