Essential Updates: Comp Medical News for September

Welcome to this month’s edition of Comp Medical News, essential updates on health news around the country. Prescription drug prices, the marijuana “knowledge gap,” and the new federal chemical safety law are your headlines leading into September 2016.


First, in the wake of several high profile price hikes in the industry, prescriptions are being considered as an ever more significant portion of the national health care system:


Adverse Drug Effects Account for $3.5 Billion in Health Care Spending

Polypharmacy, especially among elderly patient and those with chronic diseases, has become standard in American health care. However, the method can do more harm than good. Recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) numbers show that “adverse events” stemming from drugs and drug interactions drive up whole system costs by $3.5 billion annually, in addition to the human suffering associated with care complications. HHS’ finding are bolstered by one 2013 study. Which found that nearly a fifth of patients discharged from the hospital had prescription-related medical complications during their first 45 days at home. About 35 percent of those complications were preventable, and 5 percent were life-threatening.

Read further coverage via Healthcare Finance News here.


RAND: Prescription Drug Use Up But Out-of-Pocket Spending Down Under ACA

New data from RAND suggests that utilization of prescription drugs has increased under the Affordable Care Act (ACA; colloquially known as Obamacare) but that patients are shouldering a smaller share of those costs. As Insurance Journal reports, researchers studying the experiences of nearly seven million prescription drug users nationally found that among those who gained private insurance there was a 28 percent increase in prescriptions filled and a 29 percent reduction in out-of-pocket spending per prescription compared to the previous year when they were uninsured. More expansive private insurance coverage under the ACA is considered a boon for workers’ comp by some in the industry, who posit that patients are less likely to claim an injury is work-related if they have other options.

Read more here.


Future of Prescription Drug Pricing Could be Based on Benefits Not Per Pill

Reuters reports that global pressure on the $1 trillion per year pharmaceutical industry could push companies and governments to re-think how pricing is calculated. The drug cost issue has found its way onto the U.S. campaign trail, with Hillary Clinton releasing a plan to curb excessive price increases in reaction to the EpiPen mark-up that rocked the new cycle last month. Further, major pharmacy benefit managers such as Express Scripts have fought back against new drugs with exorbitant prices, and fewer drugs are going off-patent in the first place. Nine out of ten prescriptions filled in the U.S. are generic, and yet prices continue to rise. To combat this, the pharmaceutical industry’s European trade association is already discussing ways to shift to outcomes-based pricing, following price curbs in Germany that have caused some companies to pull products off the market, and effective rationing in Britain, where strict cost-effectiveness rules apply.

Read complete coverage from Reuters here.


Next, pain management strategies were either aided or stymied in two new studies:


Study Finds Strong Correlation Between Health Literacy and Pain Catastrophizing

Low “health literacy” (i.e. the ability to obtain and process health information in order to make health decisions) was a significant predictor of pain catastrophizing and pain self-efficacy, according to a cross-sectional study of 300 indigent patients with chronic pain at five low-income clinics in rural Alabama. According to the latest report from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy based on data collected through 2003, only 12 percent of U.S. adults are considered to have proficient health literacy. Further, 36 percent of U.S. adults have below basic to basic health literacy. Among U.S. adults who are enrolled in Medicare, 33.9 percent of English-speaking and 53.9 percent of Spanish-speaking respondents had inadequate or marginal health literacy. Pain catastrophizing usually increases complications in claim management.

Read more via Pain Medicine News here.


Mindfulness Meditation Accesses Unique Mechanism, Relieves Pain Better than Placebo

Recent research published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that mindfulness meditation is significantly more effective at reducing pain intensity and pain unpleasantness than placebo analgesia, sham mindfulness meditation and other cognitive-based approaches by using distinct neural mechanisms. The study is the first to demonstrate that mindfulness is mechanistically different from placebo pain treatment, suggesting that the practice is helpful beyond the placebo effect.

Further coverage via Pain Medicine News here.


Lastly, federal guidance and the lack thereof is in the spotlight:


Doctors Struggle with Knowledge Gap as States, But Not Feds, OK Medical Marijuana

Doctors in states where medical marijuana is legal (a list which includes Louisiana) are struggling to determine which patients will benefit and get adequate guidelines in light of the “chilling effect” of the drug’s continued status as a Schedule I substance under Federal law. Kaiser Health News followed one Maine doctor as she tried to “do no harm” while treating medical cannabis patients.

Read the piece in full here.


Congress Passed a New Wide-Ranging Chemical Safety Law

Congress passed, and President Obama recently signed, the first new chemical safety law in 40 years which includes new testing protocols to protect “vulnerable” populations, including workers. Dangerous chemicals such as asbestos are a significant source of long-tail workplace exposure claims that can leave workers in a hamster wheel of pain and medical expenses. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act revises the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that gives the US Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate chemicals used commercially in the United States. According to Vox, the TSCA allowed the approximately 62,000 chemicals already on the market when it was passed in 1976 to continue being used without safety testing. It also placed enormously high hurdles for the EPA to clear before demonstrating a chemical was hazardous enough to ban. This new law will require the EPA to perform testing on existing chemicals (on a specific timeline) to determine safety status.

Read more here.



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