Drug Prices Keep Rising Despite Efforts To Reduce Out-Of-Pocket Costs

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.

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Alzheimer’s Care Puts Financial Strain On Family Members

Connecticut has a high prevalence of Medicare beneficiaries living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, often placing an enormous financial strain on caregivers who are spending thousands of dollars a year on care, reports show. “Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America,” said Jennifer Walker, vice president of communications and advocacy for the Connecticut chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “The cost of care is very high.”

Medicare covers most fees for doctor visits, and some hospitalization, if needed; but other costs associated with care—including home health services, transportation, diapers for incontinence—are not covered. People with Alzheimer’s often suffer from other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart and hypertension, which add to the out-of-pocket costs for care. The financial burden is forcing families who rely on Medicare to tap into retirement savings, cutback on food and medical care for themselves, reduce work hours or quit work altogether to be caregivers, according to the Alzheimer’s Association report Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.

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Who’s Guarding Our Reproductive Rights In Hospital Mergers?

Officials at St. Mary’s Hospital and Waterbury Hospital began negotiations in 2011 to merge and join a Texas-owned company. But the state Permanent Commission on the Status of Women—with MergerWatch, a hospital watchdog group—successfully argued against the merger by making the case that since the new hospital would honor Catholic religious directives, a significant portion of patients would be left vulnerable—because God help you if you are a woman and need emergency reproductive services at a Roman Catholic hospital. Medical professionals at Catholic-owned or -sponsored hospitals operate under directives—known officially as the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. These directives come from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and take 43 pages (plus footnotes) to describe what constitutes appropriate Catholic health care.

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Aging Boomers Highlight Need For More Geriatric Specialists

Health experts are struggling to narrow the gaps in Connecticut’s geriatric care to meet the needs of the state’s rapidly aging population. The state needs more professionals to focus on geriatric care while also addressing other ways to meet the increasingly complex care needs of older residents, says the American Geriatric Society (AGS). In Connecticut, only 134 certified geriatricians are currently practicing—caring for a 65-plus population that topped 577,000 in 2015, according to the AGS. And that population will continue to grow, the AGS says, with an elderly population of 956,000 expected by 2030. That’s a 40 percent increase, and will require an estimated 340 geriatric specialists to meet that treatment need.

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Health Conference To Focus On Veterans, Aging And LGBT Issues

Health risks challenging veterans, particularly those who have recently returned home from combat, is one of the topics of an upcoming conference for consumers and health care providers. The conference, “Better Health: It’s Your Health, Take Charge,” will take place from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, June 3, at Foxwoods Resort Casino. CT Partners for Health, a coalition of dozens of stakeholders working to help consumers better understand health care, is organizing the event. Conference breakout sessions will address a wide range of topics, including caring for veterans. That discussion will focus on the health-related challenges veterans face after they return from combat zones.

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Three-year-old Angely Nunez watches as Lauren Frazer, a nurse at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, applies a topical anesthetic to her arm before a blood draw to check for lead levels.

Thousands Of Children Suffer From Lead Poisoning, Many Not Tested

Nearly 60,000 Connecticut children under age 6 were reported with lead exposure in 2013, and an additional 2,275 children had high enough levels of the toxin in their blood to be considered poisoned. While those numbers, the latest available from the state Department of Public Health, may seem high, health experts say they actually must be higher because of significant gaps in state-mandated testing. Even though Connecticut has some of the strictest lead-screening laws in the country – requiring every child to be tested twice, before age 3 – DPH figures show that only half were screened twice, as mandated. Unlike in Flint, Mich., whose residents were poisoned when a corrosive water source was directed through aging lead-lined pipes, the main culprit in Connecticut is lead paint. Though banned in 1978, lead-based paint is present in countless older apartment buildings and homes, especially in urban centers, such as Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport.

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Federal Report Finds Wide Disparities Among Medicare Recipients

Blacks and Hispanics are less likely than whites to get flu vaccines, have a preventive health care visit, or receive follow-up care after being hospitalized for a mental health disorder, according to a first-of-its kind federal report that looks at health disparities among people on Medicare Advantage plans. “While these data do not tell us why differences exist, they show where we have problems and can help spur efforts to understand what can be done to reduce or eliminate these differences, ” said Dr. Cara James, director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Office of Minority Health, which released the report. The report looks at 27 clinical care measures and eight patient experiences to gauge differences in treatment among whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians or Pacific Islanders. It has some bright spots: Blacks and Hispanics reported slightly better communication with doctors than whites did. Hispanics had higher rates than non-Hispanic whites of colorectal screenings, blood sugar testing for diabetes, and treatment for osteoporosis (among women) after a fracture.

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Let’s Keep Politicians Out Of Reproductive Health Choices

Several times every month, protesters come to the New Haven Planned Parenthood of Southern New England office to hold signs and pray the rosary. Planned Parenthood serves about 64,000 Connecticut patients a year, though according to a recent annual report, abortions are only about six percent of its services. Most of the services revolve around providing contraceptive services and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Last month, the federal Food and Drug Administration eased restrictions on the so-called abortion pill, also known as RU-486. The new rules allow women to use the drug later in their pregnancies with less visits to the doctor.

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Studies report that the cost of insulin has risen by triple-digit percentages.

Low-Income Diabetics Paying High Price For Insulin

The high cost of insulin, which has risen by triple-digit percentages in the last five years, is endangering the lives of many diabetics who can’t afford the price tag, say Connecticut physicians who treat diabetics. The doctors say that the out-of-pocket costs for insulin, ranging from $25 to upwards of $600 a month, depending on insurance coverage, are forcing many of their low-income patients to choose between treatment and paying their bills. “Some of my patients have to make the choice between rent or insulin,” said Dr. Bismruta Misra, an endocrinologist with the Stamford Health Medical Group. “So they spread out taking insulin [injecting it less frequently than a doctor has prescribed] or don’t take it.”

Experts and recent studies point to drug companies’ long-standing patents and the lack of generic or “biosimilar” insulin as key reasons why the drug is so expensive. A study by Philip Clarke, a professor of health economics at the University of Melbourne in Australia, reported that the price of insulin has tripled from 2002-2013.

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Prediabetes: The Silent Health Condition That Affects Thousands

Thousands of Connecticut residents are prediabetic but don’t know it and if they did, doctors say, early detection and lifestyle changes could prevent diabetes from developing in most people at risk. The state Department of Public Health reports that 83,000 adults in Connecticut have prediabetes, which occurs when a person’s blood sugar level is higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as Type 2 diabetes. Nearly 9 percent of adults in the state—about 257,000 people—have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes has few early warning signs, but a blood test by a primary care doctor can detect at-risk patients. Once detected, changes in diet and exercise, sometimes with medication, can stave off the disease, doctors say.

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