January 9, 2019
All eyes on the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference 
Thrills, deals, and substantive discussions about the future of health care on the agenda. Oh, and also, a lot of hype.
 
Nine thousand attendees and representatives of about 450 health care companies that run the gamut from pharma start-ups to pharma industry giants, providers, payers, medical device companies (you name it) are meeting in San Francisco this week. The annual  J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference (#JPM2019) has become of barometer of what to expect in the coming year and there's billions of dollars of market capital floating among the attendees to add fuel to the wheeling and dealing. 
 
As the health care marketing company  CG Life reminds us, "the hype cycle is alive and well in biotech" with a special focus on artificial intelligence and CRISPR-based start-ups. CG Life adds that "it's hard to imagine more of the companies in this sub-category of biotech not announcing or closing more investment in January."
 
Stat, along with its trailblazing coverage of all things pharma, also offers a humorous take on its website in the video:  "How to survive the biotech blitz that is #JPM18." (Created last year but whose timeless wisdom apparently made Stat staff decide that it's worth another look.) My favorite bit of advice: "Don't pay for any drink." Someone is always willing to pick up the tab.
 
Scheduled speakers include former Vice President Joe Biden on the fight against cancer, Bill Gates on the state of global health care, and Anne Wojcicki, the CEO of 23andMe, on how genomics can empower consumers.
 
Here's what to watch for at the conference, according to the financial advice website Investopedia: more details about Bristol-Myers Squibb's plan to purchase Celgene for $74 billion; just what Moderna Therapeutics plans with $600 million it raised with its IPO last month (although the stock has fallen since); some insight into GW Pharmaceuticals's plans after winning approval last year for its marijuana-based drug Epidiolex, which reduces seizures in children with epilepsies.
 
Also, what's up with Amazon?  Investopedia says that company reps may make an appearance, perhaps to shed some light on its plans for online pharmacy PillPack (which it recently purchased), and just what's going on with the much-reported-on partnership with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan. 

And then, of course, there's drug pricing. During the conference in 2017, President Trump charged that the drug industry " is getting away with murder." 
Support for national,
taxpayer-funded health care grows
Four out of five Democrats favor the idea but, perhaps more surprising, 60% of Republicans do as well.
 
Plenty to chew on in a Harvard/Politico poll released yesterday, including sightings of areas where Democrats and Republicans seem to agree. Or, at least they're in more agreement. For instance, 42% of Democrats favor repealing and replacing Obamacare but doing so in a way that builds on the law and helps even more Americans gain health insurance. Four out of five Democrats want to see a national, taxpayer-funded health care system; 60% of Republicans like the idea.
Another cost of opioid epidemic
Report says that the nation could be spending about $11 billion a year for treatment; another day, another document detailing the cost of the nation's opioid overdose crisis. 

Health care consulting company Premier issued a report showing that the problem's hitting hospitals hard. "This analysis shows that on top of losing family members and friends to this epidemic, it's costing consumers and taxpayers, as well as hospitals," Roshni Ghosh, MD, Premier's vice president and CMO, said in a  statement. Using ICD-10 data from 647 emergency departments, inpatient care, and other care settings, the report shows that opioid overdoses resulted in $1.94 billion in annual costs. Premier looked at about 100,000 opioid overdose patients with about 430,000 ED visits.
 
The epidemic costs hospitals $11.3 billion a year if the findings are extrapolated across the entire health care system, and the cost to taxpayers would be about $7.4 billion, if the Medicare/Medicaid shares remained the same. The average cost for a patient treated and release is $504 but shoots up to $11,731 for those treated and admitted, and shoots up yet again for those who require ED care.
 
Perhaps the headline about the report in Behavioral Healthcare Executive says it best: "Report Quantifies Staggering Impact of Overdose on Hospital Care." The article suggests that the report is news hospitals can use in that participating hospitals can get " a clearer picture of the ways in which opioid addiction is affecting all aspects of hospital operations."
Precious few are taking advantage of GED programs
This SDOH effort is not new, but it's not much utilized, either. 
 
We keep learning new things about health plans' efforts to address the social determinants of health, but some of those efforts have been around for a few years. The problem, as  Kaiser Health News reports, is that members aren't always aware of what's available to them. 
 
For instance,  AmeriHealth Caritas, a Philadelphia-based Medicaid insurer with 2 million beneficiaries, has been helping members earn their GED since 2013. But only 62 people have taken advantage of that benefit, which involves connecting members with not-for-profit groups who help them study and pay for the tests. Yes, that's only 62 people in six years, though about 1,000 people are currently working toward a GED with AmeriHealth's help, KHN reports.
 
It's not easy, says AmeriHealth Caritas CEO Paul Tufano. "Many of our members are just surviving to keep their heads over water, holding on to jobs and dealing with issues like safe housing, access to food and transportation to get to work or doctor."

But the trick is getting Medicaid recipients to take advantage.  WellCare, a Medicaid insurer with 2.2 million members, has helped 226 members sit for the GED exams since it launched its program--back in 2012.
Hospitals begin listing
standard prices for procedures
One expert argues that the effort by HHS for more price transparency falls far short of what is needed.
 
Hospitals must begin posting their standard list of prices on the Internet this year, thanks to a change in policy by HHS. When HHS announced the change last April, H HS Secretary Alex Azar said it dovetails with the department's attempts to make health care pricing more transparent. 
 
But does the Inpatient Prospective Payment Systems, as the effort's called, actually help consumers? Martin Gaynor, professor of economics and health policy at Carnegie Mellon University, answers with an emphatic "no." When public radio's Marketplace reporter Kimberly Adams asked Gaynor what consumers should do with the information, his response was "I would say nothing. I don't think this is useful information."
 
Gaynor contends, in a Q&A with Adams, that people with Medicare, Medicaid, or employer-sponsored health insurance very rarely pay the list price. " The only people for whom these list prices are remotely relevant are those among us who don't have any health insurance at all."
 
So, what does Gaynor suggest? He wants a " national health care data warehouse, where all of these data are made available, so people can find a way to get the information they need, and not just individuals, but employers, businesses and all the levels of government."
Upcoming Meetings

2019 Opioid Abuse Management Forum
Scottsdale, AZ
January 28-29, 2019