How runaway healthcare costs are a threat to older adults — and what to do about it

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/node/139803?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTW1JMFptSmhNR1F4WVRNeSIsInQiOiJOK3RWYTlrV0djQ1JEYWcyRlhqZDlHVGF2ejRRWXE3UDdHaGpcL2R5bVwvMHlHOUgyY0V0d1wvUE8rK3pMRlFFSXJsZGEzTVwvRVZRVHh3OGdLT0pOWG5LVDZaNFNadTVmYVFWdkFTamFcL2JhZUpPd3lia1hySCtzVlhROXpmWTh1Zm1mIn0%3D

Authors call for allowing Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, which is currently prohibited by law.

Empowering Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices, accelerating the adoption of value-based care, using philanthropy as a catalyst for reform and expanding senior-specific models of care are among recommendations for reducing healthcare costs published in a new special report and supplement to the Winter 2019-20 edition of Generations, the journal of the American Society of Aging.

The report, “Older Adults and America’s Healthcare Cost Crisis,” includes a dozen articles by experts and leaders from healthcare, business, academia and philanthropy.

The authors examine the major drivers of the high cost of healthcare and its impact on patients, then offer solutions that can reduce costs and potentially improve the quality of care for older adults and society at large.

Topics include the employer’s role in reining in healthcare prices; the high cost of prescription drugs; investing in the social determinants of health; the value of home-based acute care; the need for oral health programs for older adults; value-based payment reform; and the geriatric emergency care movement.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

In the report’s lead article, West Health President and CEO Shelley Lyford and Timothy Lash, chief strategy officer of West Health and president of the West Health Policy Center, called for allowing Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, which is currently prohibited by law.

They write it “would be a game-changing lever that could force prescription drug manufacturers to bring down prices and lower costs for older Americans.” They also said it’s essential to quickly move from unfettered fee-for-service to value-based payment models, and that more transparency on price and quality is needed so consumers and other purchasers can make more informed decisions about care.

Among the other recommendations are for employers to demand greater price accountability from hospitals and health plans, and to take the lead in adopting value-based payment models.

Authors also call for establishing senior-specific models of care, including geriatric emergency departments, which may improve health outcomes and reduce hospital admissions, and senior dental centers, which can address what they call an epidemic of oral health problems among older adults.

They also support widespread use of home-based acute care, which they say increases the value of healthcare.

THE LARGER TREND

As spiraling U.S. healthcare costs dominate policy agendas at the state and federal level, older adults — the largest group of consumers of healthcare services — have a particularly high stake in solving the crisis. According to a 2019 West Health-Gallup poll, seniors withdrew an estimated $22 billion from long-term savings in the past year to pay for healthcare and an estimated 7.5 million were unable to pay for a prescribed medicine.

 

Cartoon – I can’t afford that diagnosis

Image result for Cartoon high cost of medical care

AARP, United Healthcare and CVS keep prescription drug prices higher for seniors

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/feb/11/aarp-united-healthcare-and-cvs-keep-prescription-d/

Illustration on overpriced prescription drugs for seniors by Alexander Hunter/The Washington Times

Most folks think of the AARP as a membership organization that gives older Americans discounts on magazine subscriptions and cellphone plans. In fact, those business lines are secondary to AARP’s real source of income, a lucrative partnership with United Healthcare.

AARP partners with United Healthcare to offer health insurance plans to its membership. On its face, there’s nothing inappropriate about this type of affinity branding; the problem is that United Healthcare (and, frankly, other insurance companies) have made some decisions at the expense of seniors and the Medicare program, which should run counter to what a seniors-focused advocacy organization endorses. Recent actions by United Healthcare to limit seniors’ access to less expensive versions of Medicare drugs calls into question whether the AARP is looking out for older Americans or its own bottom line.

During the past three years, President Trump has maintained a laser focus on drug prices, causing pharmaceutical companies to respond in a variety of ways, including reducing or, in some instances, halting altogether annual price increases, pledging responsible pricing for new medications and reducing the price of medicines in certain instances.

For example, last year Eli Lilly launched a half-price version of its insulin drug, Humalog, to address affordability barriers for diabetic patients. Gilead created a subsidiary company in order to offer its two revolutionary hepatitis C products, Harvoni and Epclusa, as “authorized generics” at prices more than 70 percent lower than the identical brand version. In 2018, two companies competing in the cardiovascular space, Sanofi and Amgen, each introduced less costly versions of their cholesterol medications for patients who are unresponsive to statins — at 60 percent below the original price. These are all big wins for Mr. Trump’s jawboning campaign.

But the system is not working: These less expensive versions of innovative drugs are not available to many seniors because of how insurance companies and their negotiators (known as “pharmacy benefit managers” or PBMs) design drug coverage via formularies, particularly in Medicare. A perfect case study is cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the United States: For the past 14 months, in many instances, United Healthcare formulary design kept patients on the more expensive versions of the Sanofi and Amgen cholesterol medicines which came coupled with a high out-of-pocket co-insurance for the patient. Further, CVS (which is merging with insurance company Aetna) admitted to creating barriers for patients by requiring doctors to provide a “documented clinical reason” for prescribing the identical, cheaper version of the same medicine. Today in Medicare, CVS continues to block affordable access to the lower cost versions by not covering these medicines anywhere on their national formulary, effectively dissuading a patient at high risk for a heart attack or stroke from purchasing the medicine prescribed by his/her cardiologist.

Why would insurance companies and PBMs want to keep paying for the more expensive version of an identical drug? The answer lies in the backward way drugs are priced in America. Drug manufacturers set the “list price” of a drug the same way a car dealership lists the price of cars or colleges list the price of tuition. What’s actually paid by an insurer in the final transaction is usually steeply discounted from the starting price by the drug company “rebating” a portion — 40 percent on average, oftentimes more — to the PBM/insurance company (which then pocket it). That negotiation should result in reduced out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors. The problem is that this model results in perverse incentives.

Medicines have high “list prices” because the drug company knows that it will need to provide significant discounts/rebates in order to be listed on a health plan’s formulary. Positive formulary placement = patient access to a medicine. Insurance companies and PBMs like the higher list prices because they profit from both the steep, negotiated rebates and the higher co-insurance the patient pays to the plan. In Medicare, once a patient barrels through the initial drug coverage phase, the federal government picks up 80 percent of a senior’s drug costs, reducing the insurer’s liability. In the end, it’s patients who suffer at the pharmacy counter and in the long run.