January 2018

January 26, 2018

The high cost of prescription drugs is a familiar story to consumers across America who struggle to pay for the medication on which they depend in order to get and stay well. The state's Health Polcy Commission found that prescription drug costs continue to be the fast rising cause of our state health care cost growth:

As consumers across the country rang in 2018, many prescription drug companies announced that the new year would see price increases for dozens of drugs. Effective January 1st, pharmaceutical companies Allergan, Teva, Collectis, Insys, Sysnergy and Supernus all raised prices on drugs that treat a wide range of conditions including hypertension, dry eye, irritable bowel syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease.

While this news may seem par for the course, consider the details. In 2016, a number of pharmaceutical executives pledged to keep price increases below 10%. Allergan chief executive Brent Saunders, for example, made this promise as part of his company’s “social contract” with patients. These companies touted a promise to limit price increases to "single digits."

This makes the rate of 2018 price increases particularly interesting:

  • Allergan is increasing the price on at least 18 medications—including its dry eye drug Restasis, irritable bowel syndrome medication Linzess, hypertension treatment Bystolic, and Alzheimer’s treatment Namenda XR—all by 9.5%.
  • Amgen is increasing the price on its top-selling rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis treatment Enbrel by 9.7%.
  • Biogen is increasing the prices of its multiple sclerosis medications Tecfidera and Avonex/Plegridy by 8% each.
  • Horizon Pharma is increasing the prices of four medications – all by 9.9%.
  • Teva is raising prices on seven medications at rates ranging from 2.3% to 9.4%.

A pattern quickly emerges: drug company price increases continue to squeeze consumers, but by staying below 10%, their executives are adhering to their self-imposed limits … just barely.

We're not fooled. HCFA continues to call on the legislature to enact strong drug pricing transparency and other laws to control unconscionable drug prices. The state Senate included a provision forcing drug companies to transparently justify exorbitant prices as part of its health care reform package. That bill is now pending before the House, and is expected to come up in the next few months. We urge the House to follow suit, and do something about high drug prices.

                                                                                                                                            -Natalie Litton


January 3, 2018

CHIA 2017 Health Insurance Survey Highlights

The recently released 2017 Massachusetts Health Insurance Survey from the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) found that at only 3.7 percent, the uninsurance rate in the Commonwealth remains well below the rest of the nation. Nevertheless, insurance coverage does not automatically translate into health care access, and with nearly one in ten Massachusetts residents underinsured, it is clear there is more to the story of Bay Staters’ ability to get the care they need when they need it.

CHIA considers survey respondents “underinsured” if they had health insurance coverage all year but spent 10 percent or more of their family income on family out-of-pocket health care expenses in the past twelve months. More than 12 percent of respondents over age 65 fell were considered underinsured, compared to 8.2 percent of non-elderly adults and 8 percent of children up to age 18. CHIA reports that the statewide underinsurance rate was 8.8 percent.

High co-pays and deductibles along with services that simply aren’t covered by their insurance cause Massachusetts’ underinsured to delay and avoid receiving the care they need. Over a quarter of respondents reported an unmet need for medical or dental care in the past 12 months due to cost. Proving the point that coverage does not ensure access, CHIA reports that 65.2 percent of these respondents had health insurance at the time. Furthermore, 78 percent of respondents with medical debt had incurred all medical bills while they and their family were insured.

While we can be proud of the progress made since passage of the Commonwealth’s universal health coverage law in 2006, it is clear that even with health insurance coverage, cost remains a barrier to the health care that makes and keeps us well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 -Natalie Litton