The president’s healthcare law sliced America’s uninsured rate down to historic lows by expanding coverage for tens of millions of Americans. At the same time, however, the number of insured people who still lack affordable, robust coverage is rising sharply as more people buy into high-deductible policies.
A new study from the Commonwealth Fund reveals that about 23 percent of Americans with coverage are considered underinsured—up from 12 percent in 2003. That means roughly 31 million Americans who bought health insurance still have trouble affording treatment under their policies.
The researchers at the Commonwealth Fund defined “underinsured” people as having out-of-pocket costs that total 10 percent or more of their annual income, or a deductible that is 5 percent or more of their income. The study concluded that high-deductible policies are likely the culprit behind this massive influx of underinsured people.
The findings are a huge problem for the Obama administration since the entire goal was to expand access to coverage to millions of Americans that they presumably would use instead of delaying treatment. But a handful of recent studies show that even people with health insurance are delaying treatment because they can’t afford it.
A December Gallup Poll showed at least 38 percent of insured, middle-income people, said they had delayed medical treatment because of the cost. “While many Americans have gained insurance, there has been no downturn in the percentage who say they have had to put off needed medical treatment because of cost,” Gallup’s Rebecca Riffkin wrote in a post on the pollster’s website.
The shift toward cost-sharing and high-deductible policies—defined by the Internal Revenue Service as those with annual deductibles of $1,300 or more for individuals and $2,600 for families--is widespread among exchange policies but also employer plans.
The Commonwealth Foundation’s study, unsurprisingly, reveals that low-income people with coverage are about twice as likely to be “underinsured” than people earning more than 200 percent of the poverty line.
Of course, it’s important to note that while affordability continues to be an issue, significantly more people do have health insurance because of the law.
The U.S. could save billions of dollars a year if Medicare were empowered to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies, according to a paper published by JAMA Internal Medicine earlier this week. Researchers compared the prices of the top 50 oral drugs in Medicare Part D to the prices for the same drugs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which negotiates its own prices and uses a national formulary. They found that Medicare’s total spending was much higher than it would have been with VA pricing.
In 2016, for example, Medicare Part D spent $32.5 billion on the top 50 drugs but would have spent $18 billion if VA prices were in effect – or roughly 45 percent less. And the savings would likely be larger still, Axios’s Bob Herman said, since the study did not consider high-cost injectable drugs such as insulin.
It may be small beer compared to the problems faced by unemployed federal workers and the growing cost for the overall economy, but the ongoing government shutdown is putting a serious crimp in the craft brewing industry. Small-batch brewers tend to produce new products on a regular basis, The Wall Street Journal’s Ruth Simon says, but each new formulation and product label needs to be approved by the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which is currently closed. So it looks like you’ll have to wait a while to try the new version of Hemperor HPA from Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing, a hoppy brew that will include hemp seeds once the shutdown is over.
The amount spent on medical marketing reached $30 billion in 2016, up from $18 billion in 1997, according to a new analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and highlighted by the Associated Press. The number of advertisements for prescription drugs appearing on television, newspapers, websites and elsewhere totaled 5 million in one year, accounting for $6 billion in marketing spending. Direct-to-consumer marketing grew the fastest, rising from $2 billion, or 12 percent of total marketing, to nearly $10 billion, or a third of spending. “Marketing drives more treatments, more testing” that patients don’t always need, Dr. Steven Woloshin, a Dartmouth College health policy expert and co-author of the study, told the AP.
An overwhelming majority of registered voters say they want the president and Congress to “compromise to avoid prolonging the government shutdown” in a new The Hill-HarrisX poll. Seven in ten respondents said they preferred the parties reach some sort of deal to end the standoff, while 30 percent said it was more important to stick to principles, even if it means keeping parts of the government shutdown. Voters who “strongly approve” of Trump (a slim 21 percent of respondents) favored him sticking to his principles over the wall by a narrow 54 percent-46 percent margin. Voters who “somewhat approve” of the president favored a compromise solution by a 70-30 margin. Among Republicans overall, 61 percent said they wanted a compromise.
The survey of 1,000 registered voters was conducted January 5 and 6 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.