Kaiser Health News Original Stories

3. Political Cartoon: 'A Diagnosis With No Cure'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'A Diagnosis With No Cure'" by Roy Delgado.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

CONFIRMING DRUG COVERAGE CAN BE EXERCISE IN FRUSTRATION

You’re on chemo? Side
effects might come from your health
plan’s formulary.

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Campaign 2016

4. Super PAC To Highlight Rubio's Efforts To Rout Health Law

Meanwhile, a new poll shows that health care comes second only to national security in terms of what voters care about for 2016. Americans highlighted their concerns with high drug costs, premiums and deductibles.

Reuters: Super PAC To Tout Rubio's Efforts Against Obamacare In Early-State Ad
A Super PAC supporting Republican Marco Rubio will tout the White House hopeful's fight against President Barack Obama's health care law in an advertisement set to run in Iowa and New Hampshire starting on Tuesday, a source familiar with the plan said. "On Obamacare, some Republicans gave up. Some talked tough but got nowhere," an announcer says in the ad.

Reuters: Health Care Costs A Top Concern For Republican And Democratic Voters
Americans want to know what the next U.S. president will do to lower their rising healthcare costs, a priority shared by Republican and Democratic voters and second only to keeping the country safe, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll. In all, 62 percent of people surveyed said they would want to know about a presidential candidate's plan for reducing healthcare costs, according to the online poll conducted Dec. 14-18. (Mincer and McPike, 12/21)

Medicare

5. New Medicare Dashboard Allows Users To Analyze Drug Prices

Through the tool, researchers and the public will have access to a trove of prescription drug data, including overall spending, recent cost trends and the number of Americans who rely on it. And The Wall Street Journal points out that the rollout for the dashboard including information on drugs with prices that have increased dramatically for Medicare.

The Hill: New 'Dashboard' Shows High Cost Of Medicare Drugs
The release of the dashboard comes after a November forum the administration held to hear from the industry, advocates and others about drug prices and lay the groundwork for future action. “How do we make public the information that will allow us to understand prices and value?” CMS acting Administrator Andy Slavitt asked then. (Sullivan, 12/21)

In other news, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released information on Medicare spending in 2014 —

The Wall Street Journal: Surge In Prescription Costs Hit Medicare In 2014
Hefty price increases for a number of prescription drugs contributed to higher spending by the U.S. Medicare program in 2014, according to new government data released Monday. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services identified at least five drugs that were covered under Medicare’s Part D drug benefit and had increases of 100% or more in cost per unit from 2013 to 2014. (Loftus, 12/21)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

6. Stocks Jump On The News Of Higher Health Insurance Enrollment

After the government announced that 6 million people have signed up on the federal exchanges for coverage next year, shares of the three biggest publicly traded hospitals rose, staving off concerns that the benefits to the industry from the health law are plateauing.

Reuters: Obamacare, Tech Stocks Boost Wall Street
U.S. stocks ended stronger on Monday, helped by bounces in Apple and Microsoft as well as a rally in hospital stocks after more Americans signed up for subsidized health insurance. ... About 6 million people have signed up for subsidized health insurance, including 2.4 million new customers, the U.S. government said on Friday. Tenet Healthcare Corp jumped 11.6 percent, its best day since June. Universal Health Services Inc rose 3.64 percent. (Randewich, 12/21)

Bloomberg: Obamacare Heals Hospital Stocks As 6 Million Signs Up For Plans
Shares of the three biggest publicly traded hospital companies rose Monday after the government said that about 6 million people have signed up for Obamacare coverage for next year on U.S.-run markets, a good sign after concerns that the industry’s benefit from the program was shrinking. Tenet Healthcare Corp. gained 8.9 percent to $29.86 at 11:57 a.m. in New York, after earlier rising 10 percent in the biggest intraday gain since June 25. Community Health Systems Inc. rose 5.6 percent to $26.60. HCA Holdings Inc. shares rose 4 percent to $67.05. Obamacare, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is in its third year of offering coverage. (Lauerman, 12/21)

7. Demise of Colorado Co-Op Complicates Insurance Sign-Ups

Meanwhile, the Washington state marketplace is facing a barrage of callers and website users as its Wednesday enrollment deadline nears.

PBS NewsHour: Popular Health Insurance Co-Ops ‘Orphaned By Politics’
As consumers rush to enroll in the insurance exchanges, one change that's complicating signups is that more than half of the state-run health co-ops -- an alternative to private insurers -- were forced to shut down this year. The government was supposed to offset the costs, but Congress sharply curtailed that money. Special correspondent Mary Jo Brooks reports on the effects in Colorado. (12/21)

The Seattle Times: Calls, Clicks Flood State Health Exchange As Deadline Looms
More than 9,000 calls a day have been coming into the Washington Health Benefit Exchange and a nearly equal number of users have logged in online ahead of Wednesday’s deadline for insurance coverage that begins Jan. 1. More than 150,000 people have signed up for health plans on Washington’s state-run exchange since the start of open enrollment Nov. 1. The sign-up period runs through Jan. 31. (Aleccia, 12/21)

Marketplace

8. Report: New Glaxo Asthma Drug Price Should Be 76% Lower

The assessment comes from a nonprofit group that analyzes drugs’ effectiveness. In other pharmaceutical news, the head of Novartis says companies should share the benefits of new drugs with the health care system; and Valeant is buying back its own drugs from Walgreens.

Reuters: Independent Group Says New Glaxo Drug Far Too Expensive
An independent nonprofit organization that evaluates clinical and cost effectiveness of new medicines found the price of GlaxoSmithKline's new drug for severe asthma should be as much as 76 percent lower to justify its value, according to the group's latest draft report. The Boston-based Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) said its analysis indicated that Glaxo's Nucala should be priced at $7,800 to about $12,000 a year, far below the drug's list price of $32,500 a year. (12/21)

Reuters: Novartis Sees Different Drug Pricing Models: CEO
Drug companies have taken too great a share of the benefits of new drug treatments but are moving to different models involving sharing more with health systems and insurers, the head of Swiss-based Novartis was quoted saying on Sunday.(12/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant Taking Titles To Drugs On Walgreens’ Shelves
Buried in the details of a new 20-year distribution agreement between Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. is a $150 million financial hit to Valeant that underscores the unusual nature of the deal. The amount reflects the one-time revenue impact on Valeant of the drug-distribution pact. Essentially, Valeant is buying back its own drugs from Walgreens and then reselling them on consignment to the pharmacy, said a person familiar with the matter. (Rockoff, 12/21)

Having trouble understanding the hopelessly complex world of drug pricing? Even for the experts it's a struggle —

STAT: Inside The Impossibly Byzantine World Of Prescription Drug Prices
When Martin Shkreli’s Turing Pharmaceuticals hiked the price of its anti-parasitic drug to $750 a pill, there was public outcry. So Turing and its backers resorted to a talking point employed across the drug industry: That was the list price. Nobody actually pays that. Forgive the confusion. Even for people whose job requires them to know this stuff, drug pricing is hopelessly complex. That helps explain why, for all the debate over drug costs these days, there’s surprisingly little detail about what anybody actually is paying for prescription medicines. (Scott, 12/21)