“Research has shown that people will skip necessary care if they have even a small cost to pay, and recent surveys find one in three Americans say they have postponed medical treatment in the last year due to the cost.”
“The Perry Undem survey, which polled nearly 2,700 Americans on behalf of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and RIP Medical Debt, also detected widespread struggles to afford health care. About 7 in 10 people say they have received a medical bill that they could not afford, it found, and more than 60 percent of Americans said they had made some kind of sacrifice — delaying care, skipping appointments, changing the food they buy at the grocery store, etc. — in order to afford health care in the past two years.”
“About 40 percent of people said they were always or frequently unsure how much their medical services would cost after they received care, according to the Perry Undem survey; another 30 percent said they were uncertain about the costs at least some of the time. Nearly two-thirds of US patients said they were at least sometimes unsure how much their insurance plan would cover after being treated.”
“About 6 in 10 Americans said they had experienced a problem using their health insurance in the past year, according to KFF.”
“Almost four in 10 Americans — 38 percent — said that in 2022 they had put off medical care because of the cost, per Gallup. That is the highest number ever recorded since the polling firm started asking the question in 2001. Another survey, from KFF over the summer, found 28 percent had difficulty affording prescription drugs.
The truth is that insurance alone isn’t always enough to help people afford health care. The Commonwealth Fund concluded that 43 percent of Americans had been “inadequately insured” in 2022. That meant either they had been uninsured, had a gap in coverage during the year, or the insurance they had would not be adequate if they had an expensive medical emergency or diagnosis — for example, if their plan’s out-of-pocket costs could exceed 10 percent of their household income.
More than 40 percent of people said they had skipped care due to its cost, or they had trouble paying off medical bills, medical debt, or both.
It does not have to be this way. There is not one specific prescription for fixing health care. Countries have found various ways to make health insurance more affordable, standardized, and universal”
“On abortion, on health care for transgender people, even on mental health care, the candidates were comfortable flexing governmental authority to dictate the terms of medical treatment.
But when it comes to using that same authority to protect people during a global pandemic or providing health coverage to people with low incomes, they don’t want the government getting involved.”
“Pharmacy benefit managers are companies that, behind the scenes, determine what patients have to pay for medications. They manage insurance benefits for prescription drugs, dictating which drugs are covered by insurers and what costs patients will face when they fill their prescriptions.
To do that, they negotiate discounts, or rebates, with drug manufacturers and afford privileged status to the companies that give them the best deals.
And over the past few decades, as the prescription drug market has evolved and become more lucrative, so have PBMs. They run their own mail-order and specialty pharmacies. More recently, they have begun merging with health insurers, creating behemoth companies with the power to determine where and how billions of dollars are spent within the US health system.
Pharmacy benefit managers have become known as the mysterious middlemen of the pharma trade — and as a useful scapegoat for drug companies seeking to deflect blame from their own pricing practices.
Now the Senate, as part of forthcoming prescription drug legislation, appears poised to impose new rules on them. The committee overseeing health care debated last week a slew of measures requiring PBMs to be more transparent about their business and cracking down on some of their moneymaking practices.”
“Experts generally agree that these companies play a role in driving up drug costs for some US patients, even as they negotiate discounts with drugmakers that benefit others, and that the amount of secrecy about their financial arrangements warrants scrutiny.
But reforms to the PBM industry aren’t a cure-all for making drugs more affordable: Sanders said the PBM measures being considered in the Senate would not meaningfully lower the cost of medicine for most people, even if they would bring more accountability and transparency to the sector.”
“During the early stages of the COVID pandemic, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) temporarily lifted restrictions on doctors’ ability to write prescriptions for controlled drugs via telehealth. However, the agency is poised to bring telehealth under regulation again, bringing back strict limits on how and when doctors can prescribe certain drugs.
DEA officials announced the proposed regulations on Friday. The rules would render most controlled drugs ineligible for prescription via telemedicine appointment—severely restricting patients’ ability to obtain drugs without an in-person examination.”
“However, the proposal contains several carve-outs. Under the policy, Schedule III-V controlled medications can still be prescribed via telemedicine. But patients would be limited to a 30-day supply, after which the patient would be required to have an in-person visit in order to get a refill. The same exception applies to buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid substance abuse. Further, under the proposed rule, patients can get indefinite prescriptions for controlled substances via telehealth but only if they are referred to a telehealth physician after receiving an in-person examination by another doctor.”
“Officials justified the regulations by citing concerns over the risk of overprescription of controlled drugs. While administration officials did mention the benefits that telehealth services bring to rural Americans, there is little consideration of how these services are equally important to many who rely on controlled drugs—and the increased risk that desperate patients will turn to significantly more dangerous drugs to alleviate their symptoms.
“As a health policy lawyer w. chronic pain & ADHD, I cannot overstate how unnecessary & cruel this policy is given what visits look like in person v. Telehealth,” wrote health policy lawyer Madeline T. Morcelle on Twitter. “Or how deadly this could be for those who struggle to get to [appointments] due to disability or transport/geographic barriers.””
“Perhaps the greatest success of the American health care system these last few benighted years is this surprising fact: The uninsured rate has reached a historic low of about 8 percent.
That’s thanks in part to the pandemic — or, more precisely, the slew of emergency provisions that the government enacted in response to the Covid crisis.
One policy was likely the single largest factor. Over the past three years, under an emergency pandemic measure, states have stopped double-checking if people who are enrolled in Medicaid are still eligible for its coverage. If you were enrolled in Medicaid in March 2020, or if you became eligible at any point during the pandemic, you have remained eligible the entire time no matter what, even if your income later went up.
But in April, that will end — states will be re-checking every Medicaid enrollee’s eligibility, an enormous administrative undertaking that will put health insurance coverage for millions of Americans at risk.
The Biden administration estimates upward of 15 million people — one-sixth of the roughly 90 million Americans currently receiving Medicaid benefits — could lose coverage, a finding that independent analysts pretty much agree with. Those are coverage losses tantamount to a major economic downturn: By comparison, from 2007 to 2009, amid the worst economic downturn of most Americans’ lifetimes, an estimated 9 million Americans lost their insurance.”
“According to a 2022 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “on average, the number of ongoing drug shortages has been increasing and are lasting longer.” The root cause of that problem, per a report from the Food and Drug Administration, is the economics of the pharmaceutical market itself.
The reasons for shortages are generally consistent no matter the drug: either a shortage of raw materials or a problem at the plant where the drug is manufactured. Shortages for medicines that a patient can pick up at the pharmacy often draw the most headlines, but most of the medications that end up in short supply are generic, injectable drugs that are used in hospitals: usually, these drugs have only one or two suppliers. So if there is a problem at the factory of one company, there is not an easy way to scale up production to make up for a shortfall. And they are usually cheap, which means the companies that manufacture them do not have a strong economic incentive to produce any excess supply.”
““It makes a lot of sense when you think about it from their perspective. But when you think about it from the hospital perspective, it’s very frustrating.”
Some of these shortages have led directly to patient deaths. An Associated Press report in 2011 linked at least 15 deaths over the prior 15 months to drug shortages. A more recent study, following the year-long shortage of a drug used to treat septic shock, found higher mortality rates for patients who relied on a substitute. Even short of death, drug shortages can meaningfully change the care patients get — if, for example, a pregnant person undergoes a cesarean delivery, with its higher risk of complications and longer recovery time, because the drug that could have induced labor earlier is out of stock.
Experts do have ideas about how to make the pharmaceutical supply chain more resilient. But they require action by the federal government. Until that happens, there is little reason to think the pace and duration of America’s drug shortages will slow down.”
“These companies rely on razor-thin margins and massive scale to make their business work. They have a “just in time” production schedule, which means almost as soon as the product rolls out of the factory, it is delivered to health care providers. There aren’t warehouses with emergency stockpiles, because it wouldn’t really make financial sense for manufacturers to produce and store the excess supply.”
“about 900 Americans died in 2020 from complications related to childbirth. Another 50,000 or more women experienced severe pregnancy-related complications. Four of five of those deaths were from preventable causes. In terms of scale and rate, America’s maternal mortality dwarfs the issues of other wealthy countries, and these gaps in maternity care shoulder much of the blame.”