Sam’s Club launches $1 telehealth visits for members: 7 details

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/telehealth/sam-s-club-launches-1-telehealth-visits-for-members-7-details.html?utm_medium=email

On-Demand Text-Based Primary Care App | 98point6

Sam’s Club partnered with primary care telehealth provider 98point6 to offer members virtual visits.

Seven details:

1. Sam’s Club now offers members access to telehealth visits through a text-based app run by 98point6.

2. Members can purchase a $20 quarterly subscription for the first three months; the regular sign-up fee is $30 per person. After the first three months, members pay $33.50 every three months.

3. The subscription gives members unlimited telehealth visits for $1 per visit. The service has board-certified physicians available 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

4. Members can also subscribe for pediatric care.

5. Physicians can diagnose and treat 400 conditions including cold and flu-like symptoms as well as allergies. They can also monitor chronic conditions including diabetes, depression and anxiety.

6. Members can use the app to obtain prescriptions and lab orders as well.

7. Sam’s Club has around 600 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico and millions of members.

Offering access to telemedicine was on our roadmap in the pre-COVID world, but the current environment expedited the need for this service to be easily accessible, readily available and most of all, affordable,” said John McDowell, vice president of pharmacy operations and divisional merchandise at Sam’s Club. “Through providing access to the 98point6 app in a pilot, we quickly realized that our members were eager to have mobile telehealth options and we wanted to provide this healthcare solution to all of our members as a standalone option.”

 

 

 

Drug pricing politics aren’t dead

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-319d5198-f7a8-401f-9b00-26118ca0b966.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Ending The Cycle Of Drug Price Hikes, Death And Outrage | Cognoscenti

President Trump released an executive order yesterday ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to begin the process of limiting what Medicare pays for prescription drugs relative to other countries.

Why it matters: It’s September of an election year. That means that this executive order is, at best, a statement of Trump’s intention to keep trying to achieve something big on drug prices should he get a second term.

  • But given that he’s had four years already to act on what was also a big issue in 2016, there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical of this ever translating into official policy.
  • “President Trump’s executive order on drug pricing does not by itself do anything. It has to be followed up by regulations, which will take time. Trump has a history of bold talk on drug prices, only to pull back when it comes to putting actual regulations in place,” the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt tweeted.

Details: The order calls for Medicare to receive the “most-favored-nation” price for certain drugs.

  • This price is defined as “the lowest price, after adjusting for volume and differences in national gross domestic product, for a pharmaceutical product that the drug manufacturer sells in a member country of the [OECD] that has a comparable per-capita gross domestic product.”

The bottom line: Trump and Joe Biden have both pitched aggressive drug pricing policies — a good reminder that once we get the pandemic under control, the issue is bound to become front-and-center again.

 

 

 

 

Trump Unveils Healthcare Agenda

https://www.medpagetoday.com/washington-watch/electioncoverage/88250?xid=nl_mpt_DHE_2020-08-26&eun=g885344d0r&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily%20Headlines%20Top%20Cat%20HeC%20%202020-08-26&utm_term=NL_Daily_DHE_dual-gmail-definition

What's in, and out, of Biden's health care plan

List of bullet points prompts debate over lack of detail, potential for actual achievement.

Health policy scholars critiqued the Trump campaign’s broad strokes healthcare agenda for his potential second term. While some found it overly vague, even dishonest, one suggested it was precisely what voters want.

Released Sunday night as a list of bullet points, the “Fighting for You” agenda will apparently serve as the Republican platform for the 2020 election. The GOP’s platform committee voted over the weekend to dispense with the customary detailed policy document for this cycle, in favor of simply backing President Trump’s agenda.

That agenda, which the Trump campaign promised would be fleshed out in future speeches and statements, included the following points relevant to healthcare:

Eradicate COVID-19

  • Develop a vaccine by the end of 2020
  • Return to normal in 2021
  • Make all critical medicines and supplies for healthcare workers
  • Refill stockpiles and prepare for future pandemics

Healthcare

  • Cut prescription drug prices
  • Put patients and doctors back in charge of our healthcare system
  • Lower healthcare insurance premiums
  • End surprise billing
  • Cover all pre-existing conditions
  • Protect Social Security and Medicare
  • Protect our veterans and provide world-class healthcare and services

Reliance on China

  • Allow 100% expensing deductions for essential industries like pharmaceuticals and robotics who bring back their manufacturing to the U.S.
  • No federal contracts for companies who outsource to China
  • Hold China fully accountable for allowing the virus to spread around the world

Joseph Antos, PhD, a resident scholar in healthcare and retirement policy at the American Enterprise Institute, characterized Trump’s strategy as “Don’t explain it. Just say what your goals are.”

He applauded the brevity of the document, 6 pages in total, covering 10 different policy areas from jobs to healthcare to immigration, as a “smart strategy.”

Voters don’t want to read lengthy policy briefs and gave the “Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations” which were over 100 pages long and “unbelievably complicated stuff” as an example of how not to reach voters.

“I think [Trump] got it right. He’s not running a think tank…. He’s running for office. He does have a keen eye for what the average voter could stand to listen to.”

Gail Wilensky, PhD, an economist and senior fellow at Project Hope in Bethesda, Maryland, and CMS administrator under President George H.W. Bush, agreed that a platform packed with policy details doesn’t sway many voters.

This election, she said, is about one thing only: “Trump or not Trump.”

Whither the ACA?

Nevertheless, the Trump campaign’s goals merit attention, often for what they don’t include as well as what they do.

As for the substance of the agenda, the key difference between the Trump administration’s proposed agenda and that of the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, is that the latter aims to expand access to health insurance using the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) framework, said Wilensky.

While Trump’s 2016 healthcare agenda centered around repealing the ACA, his second-term agenda doesn’t mention the law by name.

Wilensky said she’s glad that Trump did not include ACA repeal among his goals, given that “there’s no historical precedence” for eliminating the core benefits of such far-reaching legislation, now on the books for 10 years and fully implemented for 6.

Kavita Patel, MD, a primary care physician and Brookings Institution scholar in Washington, D.C., who was an advisor on the Democrats’ platform, said, “This is all just posturing and politics and almost a continuation of things [Trump’s] been saying without any real details behind it.”

Many of these items — such as ending surprise billing, lowering health insurance premiums, and cutting prescription drug prices — would have Democrats’ support “but they would get there in a different way,” Patel said.

One thing she was surprised not to see in the agenda were references to abortion or other reproductive health issues, she noted.

Insurance Coverage Neglected

Rosemarie Day, founder and CEO of Day Health Strategies and author of Marching Toward Coverage: How Women can Lead the Fight for Universal Healthcare, was dumbfounded by the overall lack of substance in the agenda, and particularly by the absence of a plan to deal with rising rates of uninsurance related to the pandemic.

Day thought the Trump campaign could have at least included a plan for returning to the “baseline” on the number of uninsured. Another administration might have chosen to promote Medicaid coverage or encourage unemployed workers to enroll on the health insurance exchanges, but not this administration, she said.

“So, they’re really just leaving people out in the cold,” Day said.

Wilensky, too, suggested it would have been “useful” for the Trump campaign to have “talked about how they envision getting more people covered.”

Paul Ginsburg, PhD, director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy, said much of the agenda is “just aspirations.”

“‘Put patients and doctors in charge of our healthcare system’? … I don’t know what the policy is, [but] who’s going to quarrel with that?”

Lowering healthcare premiums also sounds “nice” but how that would be achieved is unclear, he said.

One agenda item in the document that really really irked Day was the Trump administration’s pledge to protect people who have pre-existing conditions.

“I consider the ‘covering all pre-existing conditions’ an outright lie,” she said. “I find it incredibly upsetting that [Trump] continues to say that” because he spent his first term attacking the ACA, which does protect pre-existing condition coverage.

Day also noted that the administration has repeatedly promised an ACA replacement without ever delivering an actual proposal.

Responding to the Pandemic

The Trump campaign agenda lists “eradicate COVID-19” on its bullet list, but Patel said it’s “probably not an achievable goal.” A more realistic target is to control it better.

“We have deaths every year and hospitalizations from influenza, but we have a vaccine and we have … strategies to protect people like seniors and young children,” Patel said. “That’s exactly the kind of attitude we have to take” with regard to COVID-19.

For both Patel and Ginsburg, “return to normal” is another aspiration that’s beyond the government’s power to deliver.

“So much depends on a vaccine and its acceptance and how quickly it can be produced,” Ginsburg said.

As for making all critical medicines and supplies for healthcare workers in the United States, Ginsburg acknowledged that it’s theoretically doable, but still unrealistic because it would be “way too expensive.”

“Brand name drugs are routinely produced in other countries as well as the U.S.; I wouldn’t want to upset that supply chain, especially for drugs that are in shortage,” he said.

 

 

 

A large racial divide exists in the concern over ability to pay for COVID-19 treatment

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/large-racial-divide-exists-concern-over-ability-pay-covid-19-treatment

Nonwhite adults say they’re either “extremely concerned” or “concerned” about the potential cost of care.

People of color are far more likely to worry about their ability to pay for healthcare if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 than their white counterparts, according to a new survey from nonprofit West Health and Gallup.

By a margin of almost two to one (58% vs. 32%), nonwhite adults report that they are either “extremely concerned” or “concerned” about the potential cost of care. That concern is three times higher among lower-income than higher-income households (60% vs. 20%).

The data come from an ongoing survey about Americans’ experiences with and attitudes about the healthcare system. The latest findings are based on a nationally representative sample of 1,017 U.S. adults interviewed between June 8 and June 30.

There’s also a disturbing trend when it comes to medication insecurity. Overall, 24% of U.S. adults say they lacked money to pay for at least one prescribed medicine in the past 12 months, an increase from 19% in early 2019. Among nonwhite Americans, the burden is growing even more quickly. Medication insecurity jumped 10 percentage points, from 21% to 31%, compared with a statistically insignificant three-point increase among white Americans (17% to 20%).

WHAT’S THE IMPACT?

All of this results in what Tim Lash, chief strategy officer for West Health, called a “significant and increasing racial and socioeconomic divide” in Americans’ views on the cost of healthcare and the impact it has on their lives. When polling started in 2019, one in five Americans were unable to pay for prescription medications within the past 12 months. That number now stands at one in four. The bottom line is that the situation is getting worse.

Amid broad concern about paying for the cost of COVID-19 or other medical expenses, health insurance benefits are likely more important than ever to U.S. workers. The survey found that 12% of workers are staying in a job they want to leave because they are afraid of losing healthcare benefits, a sentiment that is about twice as likely to be held by nonwhite workers as white workers (17% vs. 9%).

However, Americans step across racial lines in their overwhelming support for disallowing political contributions by pharmaceutical companies, and for government intervention in setting price limits for government-sponsored research and a COVID vaccine.

Nearly 9 in 10 U.S. adults (89%) think the federal government should be able to negotiate the cost of a COVID-19 vaccine, while only 10% say the drug company itself should set the price. Similarly, 86% of U.S. adults say there should be limits on the price of drugs that government-funded research helped develop.

Regarding the influence of pharmaceutical companies on the political process, 78% of adults say political campaigns should not be allowed to accept donations from pharmaceutical companies during the coronavirus pandemic.

THE LARGER TREND

Concerns over payment aren’t the only race-related disparities found in healthcare. Dr. Garth Graham, the vice president of community health at CVS Health, said during AHIP’s Institute and Expo in June that although African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, they account for about 24% of COVID-19 deaths.

He attributed some of the driving factors for these particular COVID-19-related disparities to the social determinants of health, the over-predominance of African American and Latino frontline workers, and the higher incidence-rates of chronic illness such as diabetes and hypertension in minority groups.

On June 19 – Juneteenth, as it’s known for many Black Americans – 36 Chicago hospitals penned an open letter declaring that systemic racism is a “public health crisis.”

“Systemic racism is a real threat to the health of our patients, families and communities,” the letter reads. “We stand with all of those who have raised their voices to capture the attention of Chicago and the nation with a clear call for action.”

 

 

 

 

Walmart confirms a new avatar — it’s also a health insurance agency

https://medcitynews.com/2020/07/walmart-confirms-a-new-avatar-its-also-a-health-insurance-broker/?utm_campaign=MCN%20Daily%20Top%20Stories&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=90973681&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-81Jwk3CVNhJLTDzB0d_5dxRASKqJQULhnQYEg1uxEGxr-l_EbrHhNlSq7UcPZ103ku0wBylrpCk8Y0i1vrK7rRE5rJuA&utm_content=90973681&utm_source=hs_email

Should I buy health insurance from Walmart? - Castaline Insurance ...

Walmart quietly launched a new health insurance business. The company, called Walmart Insurance, was filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State last month.

Walmart is making clear what an executive declared in a virtual conference: that it is firmly in the healthcare business, not just in retail healthcare.

News emerged today that the company is planning to throw its weight around in another healthcare segment in need of an overhaul: insurance. A spokeswoman from the Bentonville, Arkansas retail behemoth confirmed that the company has created “Walmart Insurance Services LLC” to sell insurance policies. The business entity’s name was first filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State in late June.

“We currently offer access to insurance information in our Walmart Health locations, and we have a long-standing education program called Healthcare Begins Here to help people find the right insurance plan for them,” spokeswoman Marilee McInnis wrote in an email. “We’re expanding our current insurance services to now include the sale of insurance policies to our customers.”

A handful of job postings at a call center in the Dallas metro also match up with Walmart Insurance Services, as first pointed out by Talk Business & Politics. Walmart has listings for licensed insurance agents and Medicare sales supervisors.

“Yes, you read that right, Walmart now has an insurance agency,” the listings read.

It looks like the new subsidiary will be focused on selling Medicare Advantage plans, though the company was mum when asked for additional details. The spokeswoman’s statement about the “sale of insurance policies to our customers” also leaves open the possibility of Walmart expanding its services beyond senior shoppers in the future.

Medicare Advantage plans have been experiencing rapid growth in the past decade, with more than a third of all beneficiaries enrolled in a plan managed by a private insurer. That figure is expected to increase in the future.

 

Deeper into the pharmacy space

Separately, on Tuesday, Walmart announced that it had struck a partnership with  PBM startup Capital Rx, which provides health plans real-time information on prescription drug prices.

Walmart has been a big player in the pharmacy space for several years, and the company appears to be deepening that through this partnership

“‘Everyday low price’ has been a guiding principle at Walmart. We take pride in providing affordable prices to more than 160 million customers who shop Walmart each week,” Walmart Health and Wellness Vice President Luke Kleyn said in a news release. “Working with Capital Rx will allow us to do the same for prescription drugs,”

Capital Rx was founded just over two years ago by AJ Loiacono, a former insurance auditor, with the idea of providing drug prices as part of pharmacy benefit plans.

Loiacono started his career in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, where “everything that comes out of that plant has a price.”

When he moved over to the auditing and procurement side, working with payers and self-insured companies, he was shocked to find out that none of their contracts included drug prices. To solve this, the company uses Medicaid’s National Average Drug Acquisition Cost, rather than the average wholesale price, to calculate costs.

As a standalone company, Capital Rx was able to provide price information for retail drugs, but they weren’t able to do the same for mail and specialty drugs. The partnership with Walmart will “complete the model,” with Walmart providing mail and specialty drug fulfillment.

With the partnership, Capital Rx was able to quickly sign on some payers, though it hasn’t yet disclosed which ones.

“Walmart is a diversified company. We liked the fact that they were independent. They’re not part of a PBM or a health system today,” Loiacono said. “The other part of it is, they have scale.”

Loiacono also pointed to similar goals in price transparency — something Walmart emphasized when it shared the cash pay prices for its new health clinics.

“This is what we’re seeing a little bit more of as the future in the roadmap,” Loiacono said. “They’re making a serious investment in healthcare.”

 

 

 

 

Researchers stop COVID-19 drug trial after 11 patients die

https://bigthink.com/coronavirus/covid-treatment-deaths

COVID-19 chloroquine trial cut short after 11 patients die - Big Think

  • Scientists around the world are currently experimenting with chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as potential treatments for COVID-19.
  • Despite some early reports suggesting that these antimalarial drugs may help prevent and treat the disease, there’s still no solid evidence showing that they’re a safe and effective treatment.
  • The recent trial in Brazil suggests that high doses of chloroquine are toxic and should be avoided.

A small clinical trial in Brazil suggests that one potential treatment for COVID-19 comes with life-threatening side effects.

As the world searches for effective COVID-19 treatments, some nations have authorized doctors to give patients antimalarial drugs as part of experimental clinical trials. These trials show some indication that the drugs, chloroquine and the closely related hydroxychloroquine, may be effective at treating and preventing COVID-19.

Early reports from China and France, for example, suggested that the drugs may help improve patients’ conditions. But health experts have cautioned against overhyping the results, flagging methodological issues in the research like not including a control group or having a small sample size. To date, there’s no solid evidence showing that these drugs effectively treat COVID-19 or block coronaviruses from infecting cells.

What is clear, based on previous research and the new trial in Brazil, is that these drugs can cause serious side effects, particularly among those with heart conditions.

“The antimalarial medication hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin are currently gaining attention as potential treatments for COVID-19, and each have potential serious implications for people with existing cardiovascular disease,” the American Health Association notes in a statement.

“Complications include severe electrical irregularities in the heart such as arrythmia (irregular heartbeat), polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (including Torsade de Pointes) and long QT syndrome, and increased risk of sudden death.”

In the recent Brazil trial, researchers gave chloroquine to 81 COVID-19 patients in a hospital in Manaus. The study involved two groups: One received a high dose of 12 grams of chloroquine over 10 days, the second group received 2.7 grams over five days. Both groups also received the antibiotic azithromycin, which poses its own heart risks.

By the sixth day of the trial, 11 patients had died, and the researchers decided to stop giving the drug to the high-dose group.

“Preliminary findings suggest that the higher chloroquine dosage (10-day regimen) should not be recommended for COVID-19 treatment because of its potential safety hazards. Such results forced us to prematurely halt patient recruitment to this arm,” the team wrote in a preprint paper.

The high-dose group had an especially high risk of suffering heart arrhythmias, a finding also observed in a separate trial on hydroxychloroquine conducted in a hospital in France, which cut the trial short.

“To me, this study conveys one useful piece of information, which is that chloroquine causes a dose-dependent increase in an abnormality in the ECG that could predispose people to sudden cardiac death,” Dr. David Juurlink, an internist and the head of the division of clinical pharmacology at the University of Toronto, told The New York Times.

Still, it’s possible that some combination of chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin may be effective at preventing and treating COVID-19. The researchers behind the Brazil trial said more research is “urgently needed,” but warned doctors against using high dosages.

“We therefore strongly recommend that this dosage is no longer used anywhere for the treatment of severe COVID-19, especially because in the real world older patients using cardiotoxic drugs should be the rule.”

One major problem in searching for COVID-19 treatments is that it’s currently difficult to conduct clinical trials in a normal and methodologically sound manner. Despite increasing demand for drugs like chloroquine, many health experts are warning that more research is needed to understand their effects and risks.

“The urgency of COVID-19 must not diminish the scientific rigor with which we approach COVID-19 treatment,” Robert A. Harrington, M.D., FAHA, president of the American Heart Association said in a recent statement. “While these medications may work against COVID-19 individually or in combination, we recommend caution with these medications for patients with existing cardiovascular disease.”

 

 

 

Medical supply scramble continues

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-fb6b1c68-afc1-4b2b-9096-de20fd0b10a7.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

What's Really To Blame For Drug Shortages

The U.S. is still scrambling to get health care workers the personal protective equipment, ventilators and lab testing materials that they need.

Between the lines: President Trump has repeatedly said that governors are responsible for obtaining supplies for their states, but industry groups are asking the federal government to play a larger role.

  • The American Medical Association asked FEMA to create a national system to acquire and distribute personal protective equipment, in light of ongoing shortages.
  • David Skorton, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, wrote a letter to coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx asking for more federal help with diagnostic testing supply shortages.

Meanwhile, the private sector is shifting into gear on its own and in partnership with the government.

  • The Trump administration and 20 major health care systems launched a new ventilator loan program that will allow hospitals to ship unused machines to areas where they are needed most to fight the coronavirus pandemic, Axios’ Joann Muller reports.
  • General Motors started manufacturing ventilators on Tuesday under a $489.4 million federal contract. But it will take until August to produce all 30,000 the government ordered under the Defense Production Act.
  • Space-focused organizations around the U.S. are now looking to manufacture ventilators and other much-needed health equipment to aid the pandemic relief effort, Axios’ Miriam Kramer reports.

1 scary stat: Prescription drugs needed by patients on ventilators are being filled only 53% of the time so far in April, as demand has skyrocketed, according to Vizient, a health care purchasing group.