Tag Archives: prescription drugs

Obamacare and drug prices push health spending to $3 trillion

Health spending reached $3 trillion last year, as millions of people gained insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act and prescription drug prices rose.

After years of sluggish growth in the aftermath of the recession, annual health spending in the U.S. jumped 5.3 percent to $9,523 per person, according to an analysis by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services published in the journal Health Affairs on Wednesday.

Expansion of insurance coverage was a main driver: In 2014, 2.2 million people gained private health insurance and 7.7 million joined Medicaid, most of whom were newly eligible for the coverage due to coverage expansion under health reform. Not all of these people previously lacked insurance; 8.7 million people gained insurance overall, according to the report.

Another major driver of the increases was prescription drug spending, which grew more than 12 percent to $297.7 billion — its largest annual increase in more than a decade. Anne Martin, an economist in the office of the actuary at CMS attributed the growth in part to a new generation of pricey hepatitis C drugs. Price hikes on brand name drugs also contributed, along with fewer savings on drugs whose patents expired.

To read the full story, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Health spending growth rate surges to 5.3% under ACA

The Affordable Care Act expanded health coverage to millions of Americans in 2014. Because more people had insurance to pay for healthcare services, demand and spending predictably went up more quickly.

But the important question for the future remains the same: Will healthcare be able to avoid large spending spikes and move to a more sustainable payment system?

“It’s absolutely no surprise that 2014 had a higher rate of increase because of all the additional people getting coverage,” said Paul Ginsburg, a health economist at the University of Southern California. “The purpose of covering them was allowing them to use more services.”

The 5.3% annual growth rate was the highest since before the 2008 recession. More recently, the U.S. healthcare system recorded historically low growth in expenditures. Many observers believe the recession was a primary driver because the high rates of unemployment battered demand for healthcare services.

Now the tide is slowly turning, although actuaries and experts don’t expect health expenditures will return to the days of double-digit yearly growth.

To read the full story, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

A.D.H.D. Medicine May “Normalize” Children’s Brains

Dr. Mark Bertin is no A.D.H.D. pill-pusher.

The Pleasantville, N.Y., developmental pediatrician won’t allow drug marketers in his office, and says he doesn’t always prescribe medication for children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Yet Dr. Bertin has recently changed the way he talks about medication, offering parents a powerful argument. Recent research, he says, suggests the pills may “normalize” the child’s brain over time, rewiring neural connections so that a child would feel more focused and in control, long after the last pill was taken.

“There might be quite a profound neurological benefit,” he said in an interview.

A growing number of doctors who treat the estimated 6.4 million American children diagnosed with A.D.H.D. are hearing that stimulant medications not only help treat the disorder but may actually be good for their patients’ brains. In an interview last spring with Psych Congress Network, http://www.psychcongress.com/video/are-A.D.H.D.-medications-neurotoxic-or-neuroprotective-16223an Internet news site for mental health professionals, Dr. Timothy Wilens, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, said “we have enough data to say they’re actually neuroprotective.” The pills, he said, help “normalize” the function and structure of brains in children with A.D.H.D., so that, “over years, they turn out to look more like non-A.D.H.D. kids.”

Medication is already by far the most common treatment for A.D.H.D., with roughly 4 million American children taking the pills — mostly stimulants, such as amphetamines and methylphenidate. Yet the decision can be anguishing for parents who worry about both short-term and long-term side effects. If the pills can truly produce long-lasting benefits, more parents might be encouraged to start their children on these medications early and continue them for longer.

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Possible Discrimination Practices Being Investigated

The New York Times   (12/23, A19, Pear, Subscription Publication) reports that the Obama Administration “said Monday that it would investigate prescription drug coverage and other benefits offered by health insurance companies to see if they discriminated against people with AIDS, mental illness, diabetes or other costly chronic conditions.” Officials said they had become aware of “discriminatory benefit designs” that discourage people from enrolling because of age or medical condition. In a letter to health insurers, “administration officials said that a health plan could be engaging in unlawful discrimination if its list of approved drugs excluded all medicines needed to treat a particular condition, or if it restricted access to such drugs by charging large co-payments or requiring prior authorization.” The Times notes the Affordable Care Act mandates that insurers accept all applicants for coverage and cannot charge higher premiums based on a person’s pre-existing conditions.

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary