State of the Union spotlights pharmaceutical problem in America

Pharmaceutical companies’ stocks took a hit just after the State of the Union address, when President Trump listed drug pricing as one of his “greatest priorities” this year.  Medication prices across the board have been rising sharply, occasionally with consequences from Washington.

For example, Turing Pharmaceuticals former CEO Martin Shkreli was called to appear before Congress when he raised the price of the AIDs medication Daraprim from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill in 2016.

There have not yet been any policy initiatives to force drug prices down, and until there are, prices are likely to continue to rise — with insurance companies finding more ways to pass this burden onto you, the consumer.

One of biggest changes I’ve seen among my own clients is many medications have changed tiers, resulting in a much higher cost share for members.  So a drug that was once in Tier 2 and covered with a $50 copay may now have switched to Tier 3 with a $150 copay — for the same drug at the same insurance carrier. That’s a pretty shocking price hike in a matter of just a few months.

I’ve also seen many insurance carriers adopt a Mandatory Generic Substitution for a growing number of medications. This requires members only receive the generic version of a drug, or pay the difference for the brand name version.

Then some drugs have fallen off of insurance carriers’ formularies altogether, meaning they are no longer covered at all.  Most often this happens when a drug has become so expensive even insurance carriers are having trouble paying for them. So imagine how the average consumer feels.

All in all, this is not a problem exclusive to 2018 alone, but it is a problem that will only get worse until sweeping changes are made to how drugs are priced. So please, Mr. President, make the drug industry great again.



An insurance shakeup? Three American corporations join forces to tackle healthcare

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon are joining forces to launch their own healthcare company, according to a press release today on Business Wire.

The goal of their new joint venture “is to create solutions that benefit our U.S. employees, their families and, potentially, all Americans,” said Bezos.

But what does that mean for everyone else in the health insurance industry?

Right now — nothing. Aside from a quick, and might I add pretty painful, hit to stock prices of insurance carriers like Cigna, Aetna and UnitedHealth, there won’t be any immediate repercussions.

What can be speculated though is that these three enormous companies will make potentially huge waves as they pull employees off current major carriers’ services. Depleting members reduces the pool of money that insurance carriers will have for their own claims and administration. If the majority of those leaving are young, healthy people, some Americans could see an increase in costs for their insurance plan — on top of already rising prices in the industry overall.

On a more positive note, new enthusiasm and innovation might just be what the industry needs. Having new blood in an incredibly old, often entrenched system might spur creative strategies to encourage savings. Major carriers across the country will have to do something to shore up for the changes this new company could bring.

Ultimately employees of the three companies will benefit first as the new healthcare company will be staged to take care of just them as a starting point. If Bezos statement rings true after this initial step, it may benefit “potentially, all Americans” by providing healthy competition into an ever-shrinking market.