New Year, New Worries About Healthcare Costs

Also featured: Healthcare heavy-hitters diverge, vaccine updates and more

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.

The new year is ushering in new concerns among Americans about healthcare costs. According to a December survey, about 66 percent are afraid they won’t have enough money to pay medical bills this year.

High rates of unemployment and an ongoing pandemic are fueling concerns, as up to 12-million Americans have lost health coverage. Almost half surveyed say it’s not huge medical expenses they fear; it’s unexpected bills that run under $1,000.

Plus, CNBC notes, Americans are spending more anyway, with reports showing upticks in spending on drugs and out-of-pocket expenses.

• Major drug makers — including Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline Plc — plan to hike prices on over 300 drugs in the U.S. this year.

Wholesale prices went up almost 5 percent for 645 brand-name meds this month. More price hikes are expected later in January.

49% of Americans fear unexpected medical bills under $1,000

High-profile healthcare ventures take different paths

A couple of high-profile healthcare ventures featuring heavy-hitters are starting the year off quite differently.

• Haven, a joint venture formed three years ago by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase, is disbanding. The group originally set out to tackle rising costs of employee healthcare, sending shock waves through the medical world. The three partners are expected to continue their efforts individually.

• Meanwhile, a group of massive employers is partnering on a venture with similar goals. The Pacific Group on Health brings together members like Walmart, Microsoft, Tesla, Boeing and Lowe’s. They aim to push for healthcare reform and connect companies with top-quality care.

Equality in healthcare gets a boost and a blow

The incoming White House has made a historic move in naming the first-ever presidential adviser to combat racial disparities in healthcare. The step is being hailed as a commitment to combating healthcare injustice. But questions remain about what the job will actually entail.

• More good news for patients comes from a study showing the ACA helped reduce income inequality by over 10 percent in 2019. Increases came from coverage gains and subsidies offered.

• On the flip side, though, thousands of low-income Chicagoans will soon find it harder to get their prescriptions filled. That’s because Aetna is dropping the Walgreens chain from its pharmacy network.

COVID-19 vaccine updates

The federal administration is fast-tracking a plan to offer COVID vaccines in pharmacies. The move comes amid criticism of a slow vaccine rollout. In the coming weeks, up to 6,000 pharmacies could be giving the shots.

Even so, Walgreens reports that gains made from providing vaccinations may not offset the slowdown in pharmacy foot-traffic caused by the pandemic.

Primary care clinics — such as Oak Street Health and VillageMD — also are preparing to play a key role in giving COVID-19 vaccines. But the clinics have little information about when they’ll be able to start their rollout.

‘Alexa, order a COVID-19 test and track my sleep’

Your neighborhood Amazon Prime truck can deliver a COVID-19 test kit right to your door. The online retail giant is selling at-home saliva test kits. A single kit is listed for $110 and includes a box for express shipping back; results expected in 24-72 hours.

What else is Amazon up to?

• Shhhhh. The company is quietly at work on a way to let Alexa monitor sleep apnea. It uses “contactless technology” to track sleeping patterns from your nightstand.

• Amazon and Google parent company Alphabet may be poised to expand their healthcare offerings by gobbling up smaller upstart companies.

More access to your health data, coming in April

Want more access to your health info? This should be a banner year for just that.

In April, new Department of Health and Human Services rules regarding “interoperability and information blocking” go into effect. The changes will give patients a much broader scope of data they can access.

To smooth the transition to new processes, providers and EHR vendors are working to find ways to sidestep hiccups that could occur. The rules are part of a plan to provide patients more control over use of their healthcare data.

Health Tip of the Week

Just move! Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore or something to cross off your to-do list. For better physical, mental and emotional health, simply commit to moving more. Take breaks from your computer and stand or stretch. Find activities you enjoy, like walking the dog or dancing in your living room. Meet a friend for a hike outdoors. Or greet the day with a few yoga sun-salutations.

–Eric Wu, ScriptHero clinical pharmacist

Why it might save you money to skip your insurance when buying your prescriptions

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and not intended to be medical advice, nor does it replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any healthcare questions, please seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call your physician or dial 911 immediately.

About the author

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 January 19, 2021

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