I thought that before I signed the death certificate of the Posting Standard Charges Project, that I would place a mirror beneath its nostrils just to make sure it was ready to put in the ground. I was planning to add this confirmatory step as an addendum or comment to my first article, but it was clear that additional details and discussion would be necessary. My first pronouncement was based on a bedside-look at the several chargemaster databases. What did the local hospitals choose to disclose; what must they have intentionally omitted; how easy was it to find anything; and was the information useful to compare different hospitals? I did not even have to feel for a pulse to know the answers. Out of fairness and a desire not to bury the patient alive (but with certainty that my initial diagnosis was correct) I applied a more definitive diagnostic test that might been a valid real-world trial for me had these posted standard charges been available last Fall.
As I pulled away from my cardiac pit stop at Rhode Island Hospital, it was suggested I schedule a cardiac echo stress test back home to evaluate the size and function of my heart. Using all of my wisdom and experience as a physician and Professor, I did what everybody else does– find a cardiologist who would see me as a new patient and do what they suggest! The stress test was normal. I could not have hoped for a better result nor more competent and attentive care. The question for our present exercise is: If posted standard charges were available– and I had time to look at them– what I have found? [Spoiler alert! The effort would have been a waste of time, if not misleading.] Continue reading “Mandatory Posting of Hospital Charges: Rest In Peace.”
Earlier this month I published a survey of the cost of insulin to the Medicaid and Medicare programs of Kentucky and the nation. Fully 9.1% of the total cost of Kentucky’s outpatient Medicaid drug program went to pay for the several brands of Insulin still available. It was obvious that some brands cost a lot more per prescription or claim than others and that the most expensive brands were prescribed most often! I used this critically important drug as an example of how the market for prescription drugs in America is badly broken. Since then I stumbled on two additional federal databases that provide additional insight into how much these drugs cost at the local pharmacy counter where the rubber hits the road. These are federal surveys that determine the National Average Retail Prices paid by the consumer (NARP), and the National Average Drug Acquisition Cost (NADAC) for the pharmacy. Both these programs provide data at the cost per milliliter level, and otherwise facilitate apple-to-apple comparisons of the different brands. In brief, the additional data confirm that in 2013, for the same size bottle, the newer insulin analogs cost 71% more than the older “human” insulins. By 2015, all prices had increased; some substantially. Valuable information about the retail prices of drugs is being kept from public inspection. Continue reading “Update On The Rising Prices of Insulin Between 2013 and 2016.”
Just business– or greed? You be the judge.
Discovered and patented almost 100 years ago, insulin is a critical drug for the treatment of both childhood Type I and adult onset Type II diabetes mellitus. Diabetes is a costly disease for our society in more ways than one. In 2015, the cost to the Kentucky Medicaid program for insulin alone annualizes to $101.8 million. Insulin consumed 9.1% of Kentucky Medicaid’s entire non-hospital drug expense while making up only 1.1% of all prescriptions. In 2013, the last year in which Medicare Part-D drug utilization data are available to me, insulin consumed 7.3% of total Medicare reimbursement for drugs in Kentucky costing a total of $141.8 million. In both federal programs, insulin consumed a larger portion of the drug budgets in Kentucky than nationally. A review of several reasons why insulin has become so expensive illustrates what is very wrong with our national drug policy. Continue reading “Soaring Insulin Prices Highlight Broken Pharmaceutical Policy.”
My cup runneth over with potential issues to explore.
June has been a busy month both locally and nationally insofar as things I like to write about. The shame-on-me is that I have not carved out enough time to do so! In part I am still picking up the pieces after my early spring travels. Exploring how to unpack and deal with the new Medicare prescription drug data base also took a lot of time. The truth is that I am a slow writer handicapped by a default and probably over-wordy professorial style. I haven’t even been able to update the Institute’s Facebook and Twitter pages! What follows is a list of things that occured during the month that I wanted to write about and hope to do so in more detail later. These are not necessarily in chronological order or of importance.
The Supremes Rock & Rule!
We were presented with two back-to-back major decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court. The first, King v. Burwell, allows federal subsidies of health insurance premiums for low income individuals and their families to continue even if their insurance was purchased in states that chose to allow the federal government to operate their health insurance exchanges. The lawsuit brought by Obama/Obamacare-haters to limit premium support to insured individuals in states like Kentucky that chose to operate their own exchanges would have essentially gutted the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and tossed millions back into the uninsured category. For the time being, Obamacare stands intact for at least the next year and a half, despite promises by opponents to throw up additional challenges. All our legislators should be working together to deal with a major remaining deficiency of the ACA. The Act has been very successful in decreasing the number of uninsured people, but it makes little headway against the exploding costs of unnecessary, marginally effective, or for that matter even necessary medical care. Continuing to forbid the federal government to negotiate over the prices of drugs is a case in point. Subsidies were deemed necessary for a reason! Continue reading “Potpourri of Health Policy Issues in June.”