Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Welcome to Obama Health Care Reform - Is this what we were Promised?


The following three article headlines tell us all we need to know about the Obama health care reform and the impact it has had on the cost of health care since it's passage. If ever there was a clearer signal of what is to come under Obamacare this is it.

The full text and source of the articles follow the headlines. Is there any doubt why the American voters are fed up?

Workers pay more for health costs, study finds

Malpractice liability costs U.S. $55.6 billion: study

Price of Brand-Name Drugs Soars

Full articles...

Workers pay more for health costs, study finds

Employees paying out additional $482 on average for family plans

Tony Pugh • MCT News Service • September 7, 2010 • From Lansing State Journal

WASHINGTON - A recently released annual survey says workers are paying about $482 more, on average, for job-based family health insurance this year.

That comes as companies force employees to shoulder more of the burden of health care costs.

The increase in premiums, up 14 percent from last year, means that workers are paying nearly all of a $495 increase in the average cost of family coverage this year.

Employers' contributions to family coverage showed no increase at all in 2010, according to the Employer Health Benefits Survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.

Drew Altman, the president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said it was the first time he could remember employers - who provide coverage for about 157 million Americans - moving so boldly to shift health costs to workers.

"Added health costs for workers means added economic insecurity for working people in tough times," Altman said.

Over the past five years, workers' share of premiums has increased by $1,300, or 47 percent, Altman said, while overall coverage costs are up 27 percent. Over the same period, wages climbed 18 percent and general inflation rose 12 percent.

"If premiums and costs continue to be shifted to consumers, households will face difficult choices, like forgoing needed care or re-examining how they can best care for their families," said Maulik Joshi, president of Health Research and Educational Trust.

Family coverage now costs an average of $13,770 a year, up 3 percent from 2009, the survey found. Employers still absorb the bulk of the costs, paying an average of $9,773 toward the full premium amount. Workers typically pay about 27 percent of the cost for family coverage, but this year they're paying about 30 percent, or an average of $3,997. That's up from an average of $3,515 last year.

Workers with individual coverage are in the same boat. Their average annual premiums spiked more than 15 percent - from $779 to $899 - even though the average overall cost for single coverage rose only 5 percent, from $4,824 in 2009 to $5,049 this year.

Malpractice liability costs U.S. $55.6 billion: study

Tue Sep 7, 12:22 am ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Medical malpractice liability costs the U.S. healthcare system more than $55 billion a year, most of it in "defensive" medical practices such as extra tests and scans, according to a report released on Tuesday.

These costs, which also include administrative costs, payments to plaintiffs and lawyer fees, account for 2.4 percent of annual U.S. healthcare spending, Michelle Mello of the Harvard School of Public Health and colleagues reported.

So-called defensive medicine costs alone totaled an estimated $45.6 billion, Mello's team reported in the journal Health Affairs.

The issue of malpractice has repeatedly come up in discussions and debates over healthcare reform. Doctors often must carry hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in malpractice insurance.

The administration of President Barack Obama has made saving money a centerpiece of healthcare reform, Obama's signature domestic policy.

"We cannot debate the potential for medical liability reform to bring down health care costs in any meaningful way without realistic cost estimates," Mello said in a statement.

"Physician and insurer groups like to collapse all conversations about cost growth in health care to malpractice reform, while their opponents trivialize the role of defensive medicine," added Amitabh Chandra, a professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government who worked on the study.

"Our study demonstrates that both these simplifications are wrong -- the amount of defensive medicine is not trivial, but it's unlikely to be a source of significant savings."

Many groups have suggested tort reform as a solution, including caps on damages to be paid in successful malpractice suits, but Mello's team said such reforms would be unlikely to cut overall healthcare spending much.

Total malpractice indemnity payments were $5.72 billion a year in 2008 dollars, Mello's team found -- about $5 billion in actual damages and less than $2 million in punitive damages.

But they noted there is no comprehensive system for tracking such damages, either. "The source that comes closest is the National Practitioner Data Bank of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)," they wrote.

They used that databank, with estimates from other sources, for their report. They used published studies for other numbers in the report.

"Notably missing from this list are malpractice insurance premiums," Mello's team noted.

"Premiums represent insurers' best estimates of their indemnity costs and defense costs, plus additional amounts to cover other operating expenses, reinsurance costs, and profits or surplus building. It would be double counting to include both malpractice premium costs and indemnity and administrative costs."

(Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Eric Beech)

Price of Brand-Name Drugs Soars

Over the Past Five Years, Prices Rose 41.5 Percent, Hurting Americans on Medicare


Aug. 25, 2010

The cost of the most popular brand-name drugs used by older Americans soared 8.3 percent in 2009, according to a new report by the AARP.

Researchers examined 217 brand-name drugs, including popular drugs like Nexium, which is used to treat acid reflux.

They found that even though consumer prices overall declined by 0.4 percent last year, the cost of brand-name drugs went up. The price of those same medications rose 7 percent in 2008.

The AARP report said the retail price of brand-name drugs rose 41.5 percent from 2004 to 2009, far outpacing the increase in the consumer price index which increased by 13.3 percent during that same period.

That means someone who takes three brand-name drugs pays an average of $1,900 dollars more each year for medicine.

"Something is out of whack here about no increases in the rest of the economy and very substantial [increases] with pharmaceuticals," AARP's John Rother said.

The pharmaceutical industry group, Pharma, declined ABC News' request for an on-camera interview and did not answer questions we submitted in writing. However, in a written statement, Pharma called the AARP report "distorted and misleading" for not including cheaper generic equivalents which account for 75 percent of prescriptions filled.

Reserchers from the AARP said that for most of the 217 medications they looked at, there was no generic version because the brand-name drug is still under patent.

Soaring Drug Prices Hurt Elderly

Higher prescription drug prices are especially hard on elderly Americans living on fixed incomes, many of whom are on the Medicare prescription drug plan, which leaves them uncovered after they spend $2,830 on medications in one year. The coverage kicks back in only after they have spent $4,550.

"They bear the full cost out of pocket when they reach that coverage limit, and that's why this is particularly sensitive to older persons," Rother said.

Generic Drugs Are Cheaper Alternative

The report did contain some good news. More and more Americans are turning to generic equivalents.

Yet, many Americans still choose the more expensive brand name medicines even when the exact same drug is available as a generic.

Dr. Keshav Chander, a cardiologist in St. George, Utah said many of his patients mistakenly assume the generic drug cannot be as good as the brand name because it is so much less expensive.

"When we buy drugs, we cannot believe that something that is 10 times more expensive than the other product is not going to be better," said Dr. Keshav Chander, a cardiologist.


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