Thousands of consumers statewide are experiencing sticker shock at the pharmacy this year after increases in deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses for employer-sponsored insurance, forcing some to choose between their health and their finances. Since 2003, drug costs in Connecticut have increased faster than prices across the nation, reports the nonprofit Connecticut Health Policy Project. The advocacy group also found that Connecticut residents spend more per person on prescriptions than residents in all states except Delaware and that rate is rising much faster than in other states. According to the State Comptroller’s Office, the total net costs of prescription drugs in the state employee health plan rose 29 percent, from $257.6 million in 2014 to $332.3 million in 2017, with diabetes drugs the most expensive therapeutic class. Some of the companies to hike prices on dozens of medications by more than 9 percent this year include Allergan Plc, Insys Therapeutics Inc., Horizon Pharma Ltd., and Teva Ltd, according to Jefferies LLC, a New York-based investment advisory firm.
On a snowy Saturday morning in January, Selvin, 13, and his mother were in the basement of the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven, to support a friend in sanctuary. As they sat there, the boy tried to push away thoughts of how it would be when ICE came to take away his own mother, who is also under a deportation order. “I’m going to be alone with my little brother and my dad,” Selvin said. “Sometimes I feel I don’t want to talk to anybody. I just go to my room, lock the door, and I feel depressed.”
Selvin – whose family asked that his last name be withheld – is among thousands of immigrant children in Connecticut and nationally feeling the effects of prolonged stress, which can become so toxic it can damage the developing brain.
A few years ago, patient navigators at Project Access-New Haven set out to see if they could change the course of health care treatment for some Medicaid patients who frequently used emergency rooms.
They contacted emergency departments at Yale New Haven Hospital and its Saint Raphael campus and enrolled 100 patients in their study in 2013. Those selected had visited emergency rooms four to 18 times in the past year for chest pain, abdominal pain or chronic migraines, among other ailments. The navigators at Project Access coordinated health care for the patients. They scheduled appointments with primary care physicians, provided reminders, accompanied patients to physician visits and followed up to ensure compliance with the prescribed treatment. The preliminary results were eye-opening: “We saw an average cost reduction of $153 per member per month,” said Dr. Roberta Capp, assistant professor, Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado Denver, and lead investigator of the study.
When the lights power on in the operating room at Bridgeport Hospital, more than a half of the acute care team of surgeons peering from behind the masks are women. That’s unusual, given that only 28 percent of all surgeons in Connecticut are female, according to the latest figures from the American Medical Association (AMA). Flexible work schedules and hiring more surgeons to ease the on-call burden has helped to lure more women to the trauma surgical team, said Bridgeport Hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Michael Ivy, a trauma surgeon. Hospitals statewide have launched initiatives to help boost the ranks of women surgeons. There’s been progress, but gaps persist.
Edith Baker of Plainville faced a devastating reality that patients with advanced cancer inevitably confront. She had stopped responding to conventional treatment. Radiation and chemotherapy could no longer contain her stage 4 bladder cancer. But there was a ray of hope. Baker’s oncologist at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center referred her to a clinical trial at UConn Health involving two immunotherapy drugs: the FDA-approved Keytruda (pembrolizumab) from Merck & Co., credited with successfully treating former President Jimmy Carter’s melanoma; and Epacadostat (IDO1 inhibitor), an experimental drug from Incyte Corp.
Penalties levied against Connecticut companies for violations of occupational safety rules dropped by more than half between 2011 and 2015, and the number of cases with penalties fell by 40 percent in the same time period, according to a C-HIT analysis of federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) data. Data from the agency’s offices in Bridgeport and Hartford show initial penalties against Connecticut employers totaled $10.86 million in 2011 and dropped to $5.07 million in 2015. Companies were able to negotiate settlements, lowering penalty payments to $6.26 million in 2011, and $3.51 million in 2015. For the first nine months of 2016, the downward trends in cases and fines are continuing, the data show. Reasons for the declines vary: Government officials point to safer workplaces and more compliance with regulations.
When Adam Berger, 29, who has Type 1 diabetes, decided to get a sandwich from a deli, he first ran it by his mobile application ezbds, which he launched in Stamford two years ago. The app told him that in the past when he’d eaten that particular sandwich from the same deli, he hadn’t experienced glucose spikes. “So I decided to stick with it,” Berger said. “An hour later when ezbds reminded me to check, my glucose was 123.” That’s a good number according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), which suggests a target of less than 180 mg/dL an hour or two after beginning a meal for adults with diabetes. “By tracking what they eat, people can identify how certain foods affect their blood sugar,” said Nancy Salem, coordinator of the Diabetes Education Program at Danbury Hospital.
Michael Baudin of Manchester retired eight years ago after a career in auto repair, but now the 76-year-old is back working part time as a driver so he can afford prescription medications. “Every year premiums go up and my co-pay is increasing,” he said. “I take medication for cholesterol, hypertension, heart, prostate and digestion. My wife quit her job due to health issues and her medication is expensive too.”
Baudin says his out-of-pocket cost for a 90-day supply of just one drug, Creon from AbbVie Inc., which he takes for digestion, is $100. The drug does not have a generic equivalent.