High Drug Prices Aren’t the Main Reason Your Healthcare Costs so Much, Report Says

Also featured: COVID-19 vaccine updates, the virus’ impact on costs and care and more

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Editor’s note: Welcome to The PostScript Rewind, a biweekly recap of the latest in healthcare news. Featuring what you need to know — none of what you don’t.


Why do Americans spend lots more than others on healthcare? Don’t be too quick to blame drug prices.

A new report shows payments to hospitals and physicians — not drug costs — are key to higher spending. The U.S. spends about twice as much per person on healthcare than other wealthy countries. But just 10 percent of the difference is due to drug costs, while 76 percent is for inpatient and outpatient care.

U.S. states, meanwhile, have the go-ahead to import cheaper drugs from Canada, thanks to a ruling by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food & Drug Administration. Pharmacy groups blast the rule, saying it jeopardizes patient safety.


Did you know it can be cheaper up to 25 percent of the time to buy your medications without insurance?


The race for a COVID-19 vaccine

Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot COVID-19 vaccine is showing promise. Early results show an immune response with a late-stage single dose like that with a double dose. One dose would ease logistics and avoid pitfalls for having to give people a second.

As for other vaccines, the news is mixed on when they’ll be available this year:

• More than 60 experts are urging Pfizer and partner BioNTech to hold off submitting its vaccine for approval until more safety facts are out. The partners expect results by the end of the month. Experts advise waiting until late November to look for a green light.

• The White House is blocking strict new federal guidelines that would likely delay release of a vaccine until after the election. The FDA is working to make sure vaccines meet guidelines.

• Moderna’s vaccine — one of four currently in late-stage testing in the U.S. — won’t be available for broad distribution until next spring.

• Over at GlaxoSmithKline, there’s optimism the industry will make a COVID-19 vaccine widely available next year.

COVID-19 domino effects on costs, care

Most of 500 healthcare execs said telehealth has been a real plus, and added the programs will likely stick around after the pandemic. The downside, some say, is patient difficulties with new technologies.

What other COVID-related ripples are appearing in healthcare?

• You may be paying more for virtual visits to your doctor soon. Several private insurers will no longer fully pay for telehealth visits. Others say they’ll stop waiving copays.

• For employers, 2020’s big drop in use of healthcare services is likely to bounce back up — to some extent at least — as use increases again.

• On the heels of its expanded Walmart Health clinics and its pilot for COVID-test drone delivery, retail giant Walmart is entering the insurance market. Walmart and Clover Health are teaming up to offer Medicare Advantage plans in Georgia.

Rx tip of the week

Is it Tuesday? Keep track of your daily medications:

“Use a plastic pill box that organizes pills by the day of the week. Keep it in a handy place. You can easily see what you need to take each day.” — Eric Wu, ScriptHero clinical pharmacist

Did you know changing your pharmacy could save you money on your prescriptions?

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Victoria Ellwood is a writer and storyteller in central Ohio, where she writes about everything from academia, the arts and agriculture to healthcare, Shakespeare and small-town living. Her work’s been featured in Modern Farmer and magazines and websites for The Ohio State University College of Arts and Sciences, College of Nursing, Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, University Libraries, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council and Small Nation Strong.

This article was last updated October 13, 2020

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