A Lively Week

Good grief, the health beat is busy this week! Some short reports:

  • Wal-Mart announced yesterday that it will soon offer a 30-day supply of nearly 300 generic medicines for just $4 each. Target quickly followed, and surely Walgreens and others will be close behind. Who says that competition doesn’t work?

    Wal-Mart’s program is starting in Tampa Bay and will include the entire state of Florida by January, then spread to stores around the country.

    Not to be outdone, Target announced it is matching Wal-Mart’s prices in Tampa Bay first, with other stores to follow. Three cheers for Wal-Mart for getting this started!

    Generics already are cheaper in the U.S. than in Canada, so how long do you think it will be before we have Canadians coming to the U.S. to get their prescriptions filled here?

  • But the drug debate continues on Capitol Hill. The House leadership has grudgingly approved a measure that would block U.S. Customs agents from seizing prescription drugs that Americans buy in Canada and bring back into the United States. The deal would let Americans carry up to a 90-day supply of medication back to the United States from Canada without being stopped by Customs agents. But it would not let Americans purchase cheaper prescriptions over the Internet or by mail order. The measure is part of the Homeland Security Bill expected to pass next week.

    The FDA is strongly opposed because it says it is an open door for terrorists. So now we can’t carry even a bottle of water onto an airplane, but anyone can bring anthrax in a bottle over the border. This is nuts!

  • And speaking of drug imports: Gov. Rod Blagojevich spent $1 million on a plan to allow Illinois citizens to import drugs from Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. But the state’s auditor general found that the governor’s I-SaveRX program is both costly and illegal. The auditor concluded that the program violated federal law and helped very few residents to obtain low-cost medicines.

  • On the Medicare front, the Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released a report this week saying that 88% of Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in stand-alone drug plans under the Medicare prescription drug benefit are in plans that do not provide coverage in the “doughnut hole.”

    But they didn’t include in their study people with low incomes who qualify for extra help and don’t have gaps in their coverage. Or those in Medicare Advantage plans which are more likely to have coverage in the gap. Or those with qualifying employer coverage which also is unlikely to have a $3,000 gap in coverage. And the study didn’t mention wrap-around programs available in most states and the programs offered by individual pharmaceutical companies to help seniors with their drug costs.

    Reports like these scare away seniors and keep them from enrolling in coverage that the great majority find help them save money. The new enrollment period starts soon to give seniors another chance to pick a different plan.

    Here is a short piece I wrote recently on ways seniors can fill the gap.

  • HSAs: The Ways and Means Committee was scheduled on Thursday to complete work on provisions refining Health Savings Accounts, primarily changes that don’t cost much money. But the mark-up session was cancelled at the last minute. Members are hoping for a second chance next week before Congress adjourns until after the elections.

    We’re waiting for the details to see the changes and hope they will be helpful and not meddlesome.

  • And the Commonwealth Fund is at it again, this week with a study that says the U.S. health care system is just about the worst in the developed world. Our colleagues have looked at the way the Fund analyzed the data and have a lot of problems with it, but it will surely make news anyway.

    The study dumps far too much data into the U.S. melting pot and does not give a clear portrait of the strengths as well as the weaknesses of our system. Tearing down our health care system is incredibly harmful, both here and abroad.

    I put together a series of talking points about the GAO and Commonwealth Study that I told you in last week’s newsletter I had problems with. Here is a link.

  • And as if we weren’t already buried in a blizzard of studies and reports, the Citizens’ Health Care Working Group will be putting out its final report next week.

    This is the group that conducted a series of meetings earlier this year around the country. Reporters who have seen the final report say that it is little changed from the draft version that is, like Commonwealth, critical of the U.S. health care system. It will likely offer the utopian wish list involving much more government spending, without a grasp of the political and economic consequences of such sweeping change. Here was our take on the draft version.

    Look for both this and the Commonwealth study to show up in political ads this fall.

  • But to close with a bit of good news from the states: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did the right thing and vetoed the legislature’s bill to set up a single-payer health care system in California.

    Our colleagues from Europe and Canada did a stellar job of explaining during their Capitol Hill conference on Tuesday the dangers of single-payer health systems that undermine patient choice in health care. The Institute for Policy Innovation captured the session on a webcast, which you can view here.

    We should ask our colleagues to visit California next to tell the legislators what life is really like under a government-run health system.

Grace-Marie Turner

RECENT NEWS ARTICLES AND STUDIES:

  • Debunking Medicare myths
  • Your medical history, to go
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association survey shows HSAs are popular among a wide cross section of Americans
  • My Health. My Medicare. Fall campaign debuts will support prevention and personalized coverage in Medicare
  • Medicare meets Mephistopheles
  • The emerging market dynamics of targeted therapeutics

DEBUNKING MEDICARE MYTHS
Author: Grace-Marie Turner
Source: Galen Institute, 09/15/06

With the November elections quickly approaching, politicians everywhere are discussing the successes and failures of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Grace-Marie Turner’s new op-ed sorts through the myths and realities and provides evidence to disprove five of the biggest myths about this new program. She uses study data to take on myths about rising prices, confusion among seniors, the “doughnut hole,” and government price negotiation. “For the vast majority of seniors, Medicare Part D is saving them money and giving them the security of good insurance protection,” concludes Turner.
Full text: www.galen.org

YOUR MEDICAL HISTORY, TO GO
Author: David J. Brailer
Source: The New York Times, 09/19/2006

“The key to digital medicine is portability,” writes Dr. David Brailer, former national coordinator for health information technology with the Bush administration. But he warns against legislation pending before Congress that “would make it harder to allow your information to follow you throughout your health care treatment.” He says that House and Senate bills on health information disagree on “whether portability should be a condition for electronic record donation.” Brailer says the House should go along with the Senate’s version in protecting existing federal rules governing donation and portability of medical records. “In no place else does medicine’s principal adage ‘first do no harm’ apply than to the action Congress is about to take,” and Brailer adds that “we have one chance to get it right.”
Full text: www.nytimes.com

BLUE CROSS AND BLUE SHIELD ASSOCIATION SURVEY SHOWS HSAS ARE POPULAR AMONG A WIDE CROSS SECTION OF AMERICANS
Source: Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, 09/15/06

A new survey released by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) examines demographics, satisfaction rates, and healthcare utilization of 3,000 consumers enrolled in BCBS consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs), non-Blue CDHPs, and non-CDHP plans. Key findings include:

  • Popularity for HSA products “is equally distributed across consumers aged 25 to 54, with demand also coming from all income and education segments of the population.”
  • Satisfaction rates for HSA products are on par with non-CDHPs, with 85% of survey respondents saying HSAs meet or exceed their expectations for controlling healthcare decisions and 80% likely to renew coverage.
  • 47% of HSA enrollees experienced an increase in satisfaction levels from the previous year, while only 27% of non-CDHP consumers showed an increase in satisfaction.
  • One warning sign: More employers expect to offer Health Reimbursement Arrangements next year than in 2005, but fewer plan to offer HSAs.

Full text: bcbshealthissues.com

MY HEALTH. MY MEDICARE. FALL CAMPAIGN DEBUTS WILL SUPPORT PREVENTION AND PERSONALIZED COVERAGE IN MEDICARE
Source: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 09/13/06

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has launched a new campaign to help Medicare beneficiaries understand their health and prescription drug coverage and to assist them in the new Part D enrollment period, which runs from November 15 through December 31. “My Health. My Medicare.” is divided into four segments: September is the time for seniors to know and understand their current coverage; October is when seniors should use Medicare’s resources and tools to compare their current coverage to other options; November is the chance to choose a new plan or change plans; and December gives beneficiaries an opportunity to work with their physician to develop a personalized plan for prevention. “Beneficiaries who are satisfied with their drug coverage can continue it in 2007,” said CMS Administrator Dr. Mark McClellan. “But in 2007, because of strong competition, most beneficiaries will have options that cost less and that offer additional coverage, and we are providing enhanced support if they want to look at these options.”
Full text: www.cms.hhs.gov

MEDICARE MEETS MEPHISTOPHELES
Author: David Hyman
Source: Cato Institute, September 2006

The Cato Institute has published a new book by David Hyman, titled Medicare Meets Mephistopheles, that takes a satirical look at the Medicare program. Hyman writes that “Medicare may be the greatest trick the devil ever played” on the American republic. “Medicare feeds on the avarice of doctors and other providers, turns seniors into health care gluttons, and makes regions of the United States green with envy over the dollars showered on other regions,” he writes. “The program exploits the sloth of government officials to increase the tax burden on workers and drag down the quality of care for seniors.”
Full text: www.catostore.org

THE EMERGING MARKET DYNAMICS OF TARGETED THERAPEUTICS Authors: John E. Calfee and Elizabeth DuPr?
Source: Health Affairs, September/October 2006

Jack Calfee and Elizabeth DuPr? of the American Enterprise Institute examine how the market for high-cost, high-profile biotechnology drugs differs from that of their traditional counterparts. Known as “targeted” or “smart” drugs, they attack very specific biological molecules and, in general, do things no other drug can do. Targeted drugs lack a regulatory pathway to generics and will likely be resistant to price controls because they tend not to compete with each other, even when treating closely related diseases. “But the same properties that generate premium prices ? eventually [will lead] to vigorous competition despite the lack of generic alternatives,” conclude the authors.
Full text: www.aei.org

UPCOMING EVENTS:

Consumer-driven Healthcare: What’s It All About?
Baptist Health Lecture Series
Monday, September 25, 2006, 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Coral Gables, FL

Grace-Marie Turner will speak about consumer driven healthcare. For additional details and registration information, contact Lindy Lawlor at lindyla@baptisthealth.net or 786-596-1337.

Findings from the 2006 Kaiser/HRET Employer Health Benefits Survey
Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust Media Briefing
Tuesday, September 26, 2006, 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Washington, DC

For additional details and registration information, contact Tiffany Ford Fields at tford@kff.org or 202-347-5270.

Modern Families, Outdated Laws
National Center for Policy Analysis Briefing
Tuesday, September 26, 2006, 10:00 a.m.
Washington, DC

For additional details and registration information, go to: www.ncpa.org.

Creating a 21st Century Medicaid System
Center for Health Transformation Member Meeting and Webcast
Wednesday, September 27, 2006, 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Washington, DC

For additional details and registration information, go to: www.healthtransformation.net.

Remaking American Medicine: Health Care for the 21st Century
Kaiser Family Foundation HealthCast
September 27, 2006, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

For additional details and registration information, go to: www.kaisernetwork.org.

Will the Real NPI Please Stand Up?
America’s Health Insurance Plans Webinar
Thursday, September 28, 2006, 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
For additional details and registration information, go to: www.ahip.org.

Solutions for Patient Centered Healthcare
Santa Clara County Medical Association Debate
Saturday, September 30, 2006, 10:00 a.m. – Noon
Stanford, CA

For additional details and registration information, go to: www.pacificresearch.org.

Health Policy Matters is a weekly newsletter containing summaries of timely and informative studies and articles on free-market health reform. It features research and writings by participants in the Health Policy Consensus Group, articles of interest from the health policy world, and announcements of coming events. Health Policy Matters is published by the Galen Institute, a not-for-profit public policy organization specializing in information and education on health policy. For more information about the newsletter and our organization, please visit our website at www.galen.org.

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The views expressed in this newsletter are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Galen Institute or its directors.

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