Checking Up On Health: November 19, 2013

Health Policy News and Views
Compiled by Benita M. Dodd

BENITA DODD Vice President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation
Vice President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

November Is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month: Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease, which is progressive, accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases. An estimated 5.2 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease in 2013. This includes about 5 million people age 65 and older and about 200,000 younger than age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s. The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will grow as the U.S. population age 65 and older continues to increase. Millions of families are affected, too, as they become caregivers and decision-makers for relatives with Alzheimer’s. Find out more at

Becker’s Hospital Review takes a look at how companies are dealing with their employees’ health care costs. The headline is one of the most PC explanations I’ve seen: “Survey: 54% of Employers Increasing Worker Responsibility to Handle Health Costs.” Just spit it out: Employers are getting their workers to shoulder more of the costs – as it should be. Milton Friedman said it well: Very few people spend other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own. According to the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions 2013 Survey of U.S. Employers, 54 percent of employers use increased employee financial responsibility as a way to reduce health care costs and 38 percent think that strategy has a high impact on reducing costs. Other findings: Of those surveyed, 75 percent think hospital costs are a major driver of overall health care system costs; just one employer in three considers its Human Resources department capable of navigating the changing health care scene, and the second-most popular cost management tactic is health improvement, with 39 percent of employers saying they currently use it and 25 percent identifying it as a high-impact cost management strategy.

High deductibles: The shift toward high-deductible health plans is already being felt by many Americans, as out-of-pocket health care costs climbed more than 25 percent in the first half of this year, according to a report from TransUnion Healthcare. TransUnion Healthcare analyzed data from 200 hospitals across the country. At the end of the second quarter, the average costs patients had to pay also rose 38 percent year over year to $2,568. Source: Becker’s Hospital Review


What’s left in your wallet? Find out what the premiums on the federally run Georgia health care exchange will look like in your county here. The premiums are broken down by state, county, plan type and provider. Source:

Hope springs eternal: Washington is starting to take seriously the prospect of “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act, according to Clark Judge of the Pacific Research Institute. He relates a recent experience in Washington, D.C., where there was serious discussion among the media of alternatives “Most of the attendees were reporters. The inevitable question came up: If not ObamaCare, what? And when a Republican ran through an answer (equalizing tax treatment of insurance bought through employers and individually; allowing insurance policies approved in one state to be sold in all; HSAs and high deductible plans; medical liability reform), the reception was attentive, not dismissive.”

Do you have e-mail apnea? A variant of sleep apnea could be caused by the simple process of writing an e-mail, according to Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper. Writing in Gizmodo, blogger Adam Clark Estes, noticed he became lightheaded when he was concentrating on a particularly challenging paragraph. ‘I must’ve slipped a little too deeply into the zone,’ he said. ‘A head shake and a couple breaths later, and I was back at it. Within minutes, the same light-headed feeling was back. I’d stopped breathing, again.” Recommendations to combat e-mail apnea include monitoring your breathing, trying to become better aware of anxious feelings and even using a heart-rate monitor.

Luke 4:24: President Obama’s hometown newspaper is getting in on the criticism of ObamaCare. A Chigaco Tribune editorial notes, “There are early indications that many young and healthy people are opting not to buy insurance. There are two likely reasons: It’s nearly impossible for anyone to sign up, and the cost is prohibitive for people who have modest incomes but don’t qualify for subsidies. If this continues, you’ll hear the phrase ‘death spiral’ more and more. That’s the term insurance execs use to describe what will happen if young and relatively healthy people don’t pay into the system while older people with greater health care needs sign up. If that happens, increased costs will vastly outstrip increased revenues, putting enormous financial pressure on the whole scheme.”

ObamaCare alternatives: Georgia Congressman Tom Price went On the Record this week with Greta Van Susteren to share his views on the harm being caused by ObamaCare, highlighting patient-centered solutions that would avoid the pain caused by ObamaCare while expanding access to quality, affordable health care for all. Watch the interview here:

Drug spending to slow: Prescription drug spending growth will slow worldwide as generic drugs continue to gain traction in Europe and in the United States, according to a new report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. The market is expected to grow by only 3-6 percent in the next four years to $1.2 trillion by 2017, compared with the last four-year period’s growth rate of 5.4 percent. Drug spending is expected to grow fast in developing countries such as China as governments spend on wider access to care, the middle class expands and economic fortunes improve. Recent launches of new medicines primarily address disease profiles of patients in high-income countries. A growing number of these conditions are also prevalent across the globe, but several of the most burdensome, such as malaria, neonatal sepsis and tuberculosis, have few new treatment options, the report notes. Source: PharmaTimes

Recovering R&D costs: A coalition of groups including AARP and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees wrote to President Barack Obama that incorporating a 12-year exclusivity period for brand-name biologics would essentially cement high drug prices. The groups, which are in favor of a seven-year exclusivity period, said proposals from the U.S. trade representative could weaken “access to affordable health care for millions in the United States and around the world.” Pharmaceutical industry groups are pushing for a 12-year window, which they say is needed for the company to recoup the costs of research and development of the products. Biologics – drugs developed through biological processes — are used to treat a variety of ailments, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and different forms of cancer. The drugs often cost far more than conventional “small-molecule” drugs. Source: The Hill

Shifting market: An analysis of pharmaceutical sales in the past decade finds drugmakers have shifted their research focus from “small molecule” drugs toward biologics, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. Biotech products accounted for 7 percent of revenue of the top 10 selling drugs globally in 2001 but 71 percent in 2012. The number of biologic drugs under clinical development grew to 907 last year from 355 in 2001 while biotech research funding surged from $10.5 billion to $103 billion. The change has been driven by the emergence of new drug development technologies and shorter patents of small-molecule drugs. Watch out that shorter patents don’t discourage more investment in biologics, too. Source: PharmaTimes

Quotes of Note

Employers believe that the ACA will ultimately increase access to insurance for many individuals, but is unlikely to achieve the other “Triple Aim” goals of improving quality or lowering costs. Small companies in particular, are not happy with the additional burden introduced by the ACA regulations” – Deloitte Center for Health Solutions 2013 Survey of U.S. Employers 

“Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.” – Winston Churchill

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