Category Archives: Insurance

SCOTUS strikes down Roe as expected; half of states likely to ban abortion

Photo by Elvert Barnes via Flickr.

The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) handed down its expected decision in the highly anticipated Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case Friday morning, finding no constitutional basis for abortion.

The court, voting 6-3, now leaves the issue to state governments. Missouri was the first state to execute its trigger ban, prohibiting all abortion in the state.

The decision to overturn the right to abortion upends a precedent established in 1973 and re-affirmed in 1992, as Amy Howe reported for SCOTUS blog. “In one of the most anticipated rulings in decades, the court overturned Roe, which first declared a constitutional right to abortion in 1973, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which re-affirmed that right in 1992.”

Journalists should note that Howe reported the vote as 5-4, writing this: “The vote to overturn Roe was 5-4.  Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett joined Alito’s opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts did not join the opinion. He agreed with the majority that the Mississippi abortion restriction at issue in the case should be upheld, but in a separate opinion, he argued that the court should not have overturned Roe.”

At The New York Times, Adam Liptak wrote that the decision will transform American life, reshape the nation’s politics and lead to all but total bans on the procedure in about half of the states. “The ruling will test the legitimacy of the court and vindicate a decades-long Republican project of installing conservative justices prepared to reject the precedent, which had been repeatedly reaffirmed by earlier courts,” he added. Also, the decision will be one of the legacies of former President Donald J. Trump, who named three justices who were in the majority, he noted.

Continue reading

Rising prescription drug prices: What to know

Madelaine A. Feldman, M.D., F.A.C.R. (Photo courtesy of Paola Rodriguez)

In pharmacies across the country, sticker shock is not uncommon. The high price of prescription drugs is one of the biggest problems facing the nation’s health care system, Joyce Frieden explained on Friday, April 29, during the “Covering the controversy over high prescription drug costs” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Each speaker offered a different perspective as to why prescription medications cost so much. Frieden’s expert panelists included Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Ph.D., the former director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and current president of the American Action Forum, a center-right think tank on fiscal policy; Madelaine A. Feldman, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the Tulane University School of Medicine, a practicing rheumatologist and president of the Coalition of State Rheumatology Organizations; and Gerard Anderson, Ph.D., a professor of health policy and management and international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“So, what is being done to solve the problem of high prescription drug costs?” asked Frieden, the Washington editor for MedPage Today. “And are there angles to this story that have yet to be fully covered today?”

Distinguishing between brand-name and generic drug prices

Holtz-Eakin began by talking about one of his frustrations with the usual coverage of drug costs. “When we talk about the high cost of prescription drugs, it’s important to be precise about which price we’re talking about,” he said. Too often journalists do not distinguish between the costs of brand-name and generic drugs or between the net price of drugs after rebates and discounts. Also, we often fail to write about the actual cost at the pharmacy counter and what consumers pay out of pocket, he noted. “Being clear about which price you’re trying to keep track of matters a lot,” he said.

Continue reading

CMS Administrator Brooks-LaSure kicks off AHCJ 2022 in Austin

Photo by Paola RodriguezCMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), opened AHCJ’s Health Journalism 2022 conference on Thursday, April 28, with a keynote address highlighting the importance of health care and CMS’s efforts to foster greater equity, access, and value, and how much health care is integrated into the fabric of our society.

Check out the full video of her speech and Q&A.

In her remarks, Brooks-LaSure explained just how much health care is part of the fabric of our society. While many people have been touched by the health system, many are still left out. The Affordable Care Act — in which Brooks-LaSure played a key policy role in developing and implementing — has certainly transformed the health system. However, there’s still too much inequity and multiple challenges to address. Brooks-LaSure has put forth six pillars to guide the agency’s thinking about their work and to ensure CMS measures results to ensure they are pursuing initiatives that address underlying disparities in the health system.

 

Following her brief opening remarks, Brooks-LaSure answered questions from the audience. Reporters took advantage of the opportunity to probe issues including Medicaid expansion, maternal mortality and CMS’s controversial decision to cover the newly approved Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm only for those enrolled in clinical trials. 

 

“I think it’s really important for people to understand that this was unique,” she said, referring to the Aduhelm decision. Normally, coverage decisions are made at a local level, but in this instance, CMS was asked to make a broader decision on this particular drug.

Continue reading

3 angles to pursue when covering medical debt 

Last Monday, the White House announced four steps to ease the burden of medical debt on health care consumers. The announcement didn’t get much coverage, and one online publication labeled the White House’s actions a Band-Aid. 

That characterization seems harsh because, taken together, the steps Vice President Kamala Harris announced are as follows: 

  • Hold medical providers and debt collectors accountable for harmful practices.
  • Reduce the role medical debt plays in determining whether Americans can access credit.
  • Help more than 500,000 low-income veterans get their medical debt forgiven. 
  • Inform consumers of their rights.

Source: Medical Debt Burden in the United States, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, February 2022.

It could be that the news fell somewhat flat because the announcement followed the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) report last month, “Medical debt burden in the United States.” After that report was published, the nation’s three largest credit-reporting agencies made significant changes in how they report medical debt. We covered those news stories in a blog post last week, “Equifax, Experian, TransUnion to remove some medical debt from credit reports.” 

When reporting on medical debt and the White House announcement, it’s easy to neglect three of the most compelling angles to this story, all of which stem from the abnormal nature of the highly complex U.S. health care system. 

First, the nation’s credit reporting system adds a burden to those who cannot afford to pay their medical bills that high-income consumers do not face. 

Continue reading

Equifax, Experian, TransUnion to remove some medical debt from credit reports 

Photo by wwnorm via creativecommons.org

People in the United States will soon get some help addressing costly health care; three major consumer credit rating agencies are planning to change how they report medical debt.

Starting in July, paid medical collection debt will no longer be included on consumer credit reports, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion said in a joint announcement on March 18. The three agencies also said the time before unpaid medical collection debt would appear on a consumer’s report will be increased from six months to one year.

This change is intended to give consumers more time to work with insurance companies, hospitals and medical offices to address billing disputes before they are reported on credit files. And, in the first half of 2023, the three companies will also no longer include medical collection debt under at least $500 on credit reports.

People struggling to pay hospital bills or copays for cancer treatment often worry about damaging their credit ratings. Lower credit scores can make it tougher to find employment or make major purchases such as a home, noted Rohit Chopra, the director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in a March 1 statement. 

Continue reading