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Sep. 13: Progress In Reducing US Uninsured Rate Stalled In 2017, Census Bureau Data Show

Leading the News

Progress In Reducing US Uninsured Rate Stalled In 2017, Census Bureau Data Show.

The Washington Post  (9/12, Stein) reports that the US uninsured rate was essentially unchanged “from 2016 to 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures published on Wednesday, the first year this decade that the nation did not make progress in reducing the ranks of those without health insurance.” The data “suggest America’s recent success in lowering its uninsured population has plateaued, with potential implications for policymaking and the fate of the U.S. health care system.” Figures indicate that 28.1 million people, or 8.8 percent of Americans, lacked coverage in 2016. That number “rose by about 400,000 people to 28.5 million while the rate of the uninsured did not change. ... The increase was not statistically significant.” The article adds that the US uninsured rate fell by nearly 50 percent from 2010 to 2016 as tens of millions of consumers enrolled in ACA plans.

Legislation and Policy

Trump Administration Cuts ACA Navigator Funding To $10M From $36M, Reduces Number Of Grantees From 90 To 39.

The Washington Examiner  (9/12, Leonard) reports the Trump Administration has allocated “$10 million in grants to 39 organizations that help people enroll in Obamacare, a drop from the 90 organizations that received the awards last year when funding was nearly three times as high.” The article says the Administration reduced “the budget for navigators from $100 million during the final open enrollment of former President Barack Obama’s term to $36 million, and slashed it even further to $10 million this year.” Democrats contend this is “another instance of ‘sabotage’ against the healthcare law, but the Trump administration said navigators accounted for only 1 percent of enrollment.”

Azar Says Trump Administration Is Mulling “Disruptive” Changes To Help Lower Drug Prices.

Bloomberg News  (9/12, Koons, Edney) reports that the Trump Administration wants “to make ‘disruptive’ changes to U.S. drug pricing to bring down costs for patients, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.” During an interview with Bloomberg News on Wednesday, Azar stated, “Every player in the system has their share of blame. ... Part of that is going to be some fairly large, disruptive changing of the rules of the road.” He added, “Pharma companies set their price. ... They may be doing so within an economic system that has various incentives, and my job is to change the system.” The article says the Administration is focusing on reducing “the list prices of prescription drugs, and some drugmakers have pulled back from proposed hikes in recent months.” Drugmakers “have long pointed to the role of middlemen such as pharmacy-benefit managers in pushing drug prices higher”; however, Azar “was careful not to single out PBMs.”

Public Health and Private Healthcare Systems

More Than 4,300 Arkansans Lose Medicaid For Failing To Meet New Requirements.

The Washington Post  (9/12, Goldstein) reports that more than 4,300 Arkansas residents “have been dropped from Medicaid because they failed to meet new requirements, the first Americans to lose the safety-net health insurance under rules compelling recipients to work or prepare for a job to keep their coverage.” That number is nearly one in five of those “who became subject to the requirements late this spring.” Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) said he was unhappy with the number, but said that “1,000 people in the overall program have found employment” and that the requirement is “‘a proper balance of those values that we hold important,’ including work and personal responsibility.”

Medicaid Expansion Will Remain On Nebraska’s November Ballot.

The AP  (9/12) reports Nebraska’s Supreme Court has ruled that “voters will decide in November whether to expand Medicaid, rejecting [a] lawsuit.” The plaintiffs sought to remove Medicaid expansion from the ballot.

Premiums For ACA Plans Sold Through Washington State’s Exchange Could Rise By About 14%.

The Seattle Times  (9/12, Blethen) reports that premiums for ACA plans sold through Washington state’s exchange are expected to rise by almost 14 percent. The article says, “The Washington Health Benefit Exchange Board will vote Thursday on the proposal from Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to raise premiums 13.8 percent for 2019.” If the proposal is approved, “it will be the fourth year in a row premiums have risen.”

More Insurers Dropping Coverage For Oxycodone.

NPR  (9/12, Farmer) reports several insurance companies, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, have announced they will no longer cover prescriptions for OxyContin (oxycodone), “whose maker, Purdue Pharma, faces dozens of lawsuits related to its high-pressure sales tactics around the country and contribution to the opioid crisis.” Cigna and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida last fall “dropped coverage of the drug.” Blue Cross officials “say newer abuse-deterrent opioids work better, and starting in January, the insurer covering 3.4 million Tennesseans will pay for those opioids made by other pharmaceutical companies instead.” According to the company and some pharmaceutical experts, “the latest long-acting opioids that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee is going to start covering – Xtampza and Morphabond – are harder to misuse.”

Expert Discusses How Medicare Is Keeping Per-Person Costs Down.

Politico  (9/12, Diamond) reports despite overall increases in Medicare costs, the program’s per-person spending increased by “only about 1 percent per year,” and with inflation factored in, the per-person spending has “been going down.” Experts are attempting to determine how Medicare achieved declining costs as “private insurers continued to spend more...on their younger and healthier customers.” Melinda Buntin, an economist at Vanderbilt, explained that “Medicare has gotten better at managing patients known as ‘dual-eligible’” who “have historically been a major cost driver for federal health spending.” Additionally, Medicare’s value-based care has “helped shift the system toward more sustainable spending growth.”

Cigna Launches $250-Million Healthcare Innovation Fund To Develop Startups.

Forbes  (9/12) contributor Bruce Japsen says Cigna has launched a $250-million “fund to develop ‘promising startups and growth-stage companies.’” Japsen adds, “The insurer has already invested in several companies including digital therapeutics firm Omada Health, artificial intelligence firm Prognos and telehealth provider MDLive.” Cigna and other health insurers are expanding investments to “tap into innovative new ideas as a way to improve health quality” and address rising healthcare costs.

        Fierce Healthcare  (9/12, Richman) reports that Tom Richards, senior vice president and global lead of strategy and business development at Cigna, “said the venture fund wants to find innovative companies that are looking to transform customer pain points.” He is quoted as saying, “We’re looking at companies that are solving, or attempting to solve, important customer problems, and are doing so in a differentiating manner. There are, unfortunately, a lot of challenges in healthcare, whether it’s affordability or complexity or errors.”

        Healthcare Finance News  (9/12, Morse) also covers the story.

Also in the News

Massachusetts’ Healthcare Spending Rose By Lowest Level In Five Years In 2017.

The Boston Globe  (9/12, McCluskey) says Massachusetts “made headway in controlling health care spending last year, according to a report” compiled by the Center for Health Information and Analysis, a state agency. Data show health spending in the state rose by “1.6 percent in 2017 – the lowest level of growth in five years – even as costs remain a burden for many consumers.” The article adds that healthcare spending “totaled $61.1 billion, or $8,907 per person,” which “was within a state-mandated target for controlling costs.”

Forbes Contributor: Americans’ Low Health Literacy Costs Employers $4.8 Billion Annually.

Contributor Bruce Japsen writes in a Forbes  (9/12) piece that American consumers’ inability “to navigate the healthcare system costs $4.8 billion annually in administrative expenses for employers and insurers picking up the tab for patient medical costs,” according to an analysis conducted by Accenture. Data show “half of U.S. consumers are unable to navigate healthcare system complexities, triggering avoidable calls to customer service centers and choices of health benefits that cost them more when they don’t know what to pick or what’s covered.” Japsen says, “This low health literacy costs insurers and employers $26 more in administrative fees per consumer or $4.8 billion annually,” Accenture concluded.

Jeff Sopko