Two Minute Drill

If You Want A Pragmatic Understanding of the Opioid Epidemic You May Want to Listen to This

This post follows up on last week’s primer on how abuse of prescription pain medications has led to what’s now recognized as a true national crisis. The new podcast Embedded provides a riveting inside look at how the use of one particularly powerful prescription painkiller, Opana, impacted life in a small Indiana town.

Pain Meds and The Opioid Epidemic: 10 Things To Know

There’s a lot in the news these days about what’s referred to as the opioid crisis or epidemic.

Just yesterday for instance —  highly respected healthcare consultant (and close friend) Joe Paduda, fresh off of speaking at a national drug summit in Atlanta, wrote an insightful but grave piece on the impact of opioid abuse for Managed Care Matters. Joe nets out the massive increase in the death toll stemming from prescription pain killers (opioids) and how the increased use of heroin has been driven by users who started with prescription opioids .

And, in an article appearing in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal (The Accidental Deadly Drug Prescription) a Baltimore physician writes how doctors and patients alike are unaware of the threat of accidental death posed when opioids interact with other frequently prescribed drugs.

Got me thinking. Despite all the news, despite being in a healthcare related field and working with prescription drug plans, and despite having had family, friends, and colleagues at work touched by this crisis, I realized I don’t really know nearly enough about the overall issue. I wanted to better comprehend the basics and so I dug in a little bit to get a better grasp. Thought I’d share in case you’re in the same boat as me.

Here are 10 things about the growing pain med problem that may help you better understand:

1.) Per the National Institutes for Health (NIH), Opioids are medications that relieve pain. They reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain by diminishing the effects of a painful stimulus. In other words, they reduce the patient’s perception of pain.

2.) Medications in the opioid class include hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (e.g., Kadian, Avinza), codeine, and related drugs.

 3.) Hydrocodone products are the most commonly prescribed for a host of painful conditions, including dental and injury-related pain.

 4.) Morphine is often used before and after surgical procedures to alleviate severe pain.

 5.) Codeine is often prescribed for mild pain. In addition to their pain relieving properties, some of these drugs—codeine and diphenoxylate (Lomotil) for example—can be used to relieve coughs and severe diarrhea. (In other words, just about anyone could have been prescribed an opioid at one time or another.)

 6.) Addiction may develop due to the euphoric response some people experience when taking opioid medications. The drugs affect the brain regions involved in reward. Those who abuse opioids may look to step up and intensify their experience by taking the drug in ways other than those prescribed or switching to heroin after becoming addicted because heroin may be less expensive and or more easily accessible.

 7.) Over the course of almost two decades overprescribing of opioids has led to a huge increase in the frequency of opioid addiction. This in turn has led to the steep rise in overdose deaths and increased heroin use. Use of hydrocodone has more than doubled and consumption of oxycodone has increased by nearly 500%. The number of deaths due to opioid overdose death nearly quadrupled.

 8.) This acceleration in the prescription and use of opioids was fueled in large part by the combination of the introduction of OxyContin in 1995, more aggressive identification and treatment of pain, and, an overall increase in emphasis on Pain Management as a treatment modality.

 9.) The group with the highest death rate from opioid prescription pain meds is the 45-to-54 age group — more than four times the rate for teenagers and young adults. The rate of overdose deaths for adults ages 55 to 64 has soared sevenfold.

 10.) Everyday 46 Americans die from using prescription painkillers.

I guess my take away is for me to tune in more. And, encourage our team and our clients and their employees to tune in more.  Maybe at one time it seemed mostly just on the streets. Not any more. It’s at the office; it’s at home; and it’s over the roads. From classrooms to locker rooms to board rooms, pain med addiction has become a real and costly issue that in some way shape or form has touched most of us.

“Who’s Exempt from the ACA Individual Mandate to Have Health Insurance?”

During several recent meetings this question was posed a number of times by curious employees and a few their employers. It seems many folks are still unclear about the exemptions. Many also were unclear on the amount of the penalties.

Below is a summary on exemptions and individual penatlies published recently in a Kaiser Health News article addressing these FAQs:

Who’s Exempt from the Requirement to Have Insurance?

 The list of possible exemptions is a long one. You may be eligible for an exemption if:
• Your income is below the federal income tax filing threshold.
• The lowest priced available plan costs more than 8.05 percent of your income.
• Your income is less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (about $16,105 for 2015 coverage for an individual) and your state did not expand Medicaid coverage to adults at this income level as permitted under the health law.
• You experienced one of several hardships, including eviction, bankruptcy or domestic violence.
• You are a member of an Indian tribe, health care sharing ministry or a religious group that objects to insurance.
• You are in jail.
• You are an immigrant who is not in the country legally.

Many also asked about the penalties. More from the KHN article:

Penalties: How Much?

For 2016, the penalty will be the greater of $695 or 2.5 percent of income.
Although much of the discussion is often about the flat dollar penalty – $325 in 2015 — many people will be paying substantially more than that. A single person earning more than $26,550 would not qualify for the $325 penalty ($26,550 – $10,300 = $16,250 x 2 percent = $325.) So the 2 percent penalty is the standard that will apply in most cases, say experts. For example, for a single person whose modified adjusted gross income is $35,000, the penalty would be $494 ($35,000 – $10,300 = $24,700 x 2 percent = $494. That same individual would have paid $249 in penalties for 2014.

The penalty is capped at the national average price for a bronze plan, which the IRS announced was $2,484 for an individual and $12,240 for a family of five or more in 2015.

To read about other ObamaCare FAQ’s go to FAQ: What Are The Penalties For Not Getting Insurance?

New Source of Over-Utilization? Study Indicates Use of Retail Clinics May Be Increasing Healthcare Costs

Use of retail clinics leads to higher costs.

Seems a bit counter-intuitive doesn’t it?

You’d think that the use of retail clinics like those found in some CVS and Kroger stores and typically staffed by nurse practitioners would be apt to lower total costs. In fact it’s based on this premise that some employers and carriers are encouraging employees to use these clinics by covering more of the cost of the visit.

HHS Publishes Out-of-Pocket Regs for 2017

This is hot off the presses. The most important announcement this past week is that HHS published the increased out-of-pocket regulations for 2017. Originally, the ACA was to cap deductibles at $2,000. That seems like a long time ago and was never really followed.

In the big picture, this increase seems to indicate that they see costs continuing to increase and consumers will need to consider mitigating those increases by moving to higher deductible plans.

Rx Shock: Ever Faced A 900% Increase Nearly Overnight? You’re Not Alone.

We are finding some crazy Rx trends that are translating into real world cost and care issues for our clients and their employees. Here’s a prime example. We recently found that a type 2 diabetes drug (GLUMETZA) increased in cost by 900%, nearly overnight.

After digging into it here’s what we found:

• An investment firm purchased the manufacturer
• The price of the drug quickly spiked under the new ownership
• The drug had a specific efficacy but was prescribed widely

HEALTHCARE COSTS: YOU WON’T BELIEVE THIS!

We read and hear a lot about the craziness and wild swings in pricing for common medical services. Some seem too incredulous to believe. Healthcare’s version of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

OK. So here’s a true story. Hot off the presses. Happened just this week to someone in our sphere.

10 Healthcare Trends to Look For in 2016

It seems the kickoff of a New Year fosters predictions, Top Ten’s, and various and sundry industry-related crystal ball lists. An article about consumer healthcare trends in this morning’s Fiscal Times (10 Healthcare Trends That Will Affect You in 2016) caught my eye. Some of these trends, which we’ve also been following and have highlighted here in the past, are more likely to impact or, perhaps more accurately, continue to impact us in 2016 than others. No break-through revelations; but, all interesting nonetheless.

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