prescription

Highlights from Wide-Ranging Interview with Atul Gawande, Head of the New ABJ (Amazon/Berkshire/JP Morgan Chase) Healthcare Endeavor, Provides Glimpse of Vision and What They Hope to Accomplish

(Note: In keeping with our 2 Minute Drill mantra, we’ve broken this into two parts. Today in Part 1 we’ll highlight Gawande’s view of the three big systemic problems with healthcare. Tomorrow in Part 2 we’ll summarize his vision for the ABJ-HCE.)

Last week Amazon/Berkshire/JP Morgan Chase announced the appointment of renowned author, surgeon, and researcher Atul Gawande to head up their ambitious new “Amazon/Berkshire/JP Morgan Chase healthcare endeavor” (still unnamed, we’ll refer to it as ABJ-HCE for now). In a long form interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival Gawande expounded on his view of the problem facing the U.S. healthcare system and his thoughts on what the ABJ-HCE can do to make the whole system work better.

Here are few of Gawande’s thoughts that struck me as I watched the interview:

  • While healthcare comprises 18% of the U.S. economy, 30% of those expenditures are of no benefit to the patient.
  • The three biggest sources of waste are:
    • Very high administrative costs. He said there are a lot of “middlemen” in the system some of which must be taken out of the system to simplify the equation.
    • Pricing (I think he’s referencing the price of healthcare services and the method of paying providers for the services)
    • Mis-utilization of treatment. This is identified as by far the biggest of the three buckets. He defined mis-utilization as the wrong care, delivered at the wrong time, and in the wrong way.
  • On the reality of our healthcare system:
    • It was built in the 1940’s and 1950’s when there were only a handful of treatments.
    • Then: A system where the clinician could be expected to do it all – administer the right medicine and treatment. Add in some staff and a place for the patient to recover otherwise leave the clinician alone to do it all.
    • Now: We’ve discovered in the last century that the number of illnesses we can have and the number of ways the human body can fail exceeds 70,000 (covering 13 organ systems).
    • And, in the last fifty years we’ve generated 4,000 new surgical procedures and 6,000 new drugs.
    • Yet, we’re still deploying all these new discoveries and capabilities on a 40’s and 50’s system where the clinician will take care of it.

Gwande points to a broken system. Healthcare is now so complex “that everybody involved feels it’s out of their control – payors, patients, and providers — with no real influence over the end results. “Obamacare is on life support” and “even though I’m going to work for a bunch of employers, employer-based care is broken”.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Gawande on what’s needed, what ABJ-HCE brings to the table, and achieving his goal for the endeavor:  “Scalable solutions for better healthcare delivery everywhere”.

Pharmacy Coupons and Insurance Companies Making Adjustments

This is an example of one Ohio company adjusting how they administer coupons people use at the pharmacyThe program helps make sure members’ out-of-pocket cost for prescription drugs are properly applied to deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket amounts.

The benefit of the coupon is easy to grasp.  Someone on an expensive brand medication can obtain it at low or no cost.

The problem can be that the carrier processes it as a paid claim and the member never pays what the plan requires.  There are reasons both employers and carriers want real out of pocket to be met by the member.

The carriers now are adjusting and working on ensuring that the member is not given credit or given a reimbursement for something they never paid for personally.  Members can use the coupons, but the carrier will credit only what the member actually paid.

This seems like a reasonable solution.  It will likely become a normal way coupons are processed.

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.

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