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Wednesday, December 13, 2017                                                                                                                                                     

In recent Senate hearings, former Eli Lilly pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar said lowering drug prices would be among his top priorities if confirmed to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Azar also went off the usual pharma script under questioning about the practice of extending drug patents. Supporters say Azar’s knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry’s pricing and development tactics will be an asset for the administration, but there are more hearings to go before his nomination comes to a vote. (USA Today; Bloomberg)

Do providers cherry-pick patients to enhance value-based payment model outcomes? A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine says that, for low-incentive models with limited risk adjustment, it may be so. After analyzing early Medicare value model claims and adjusting for patient characteristics, researchers found that the models’ penalties and weak incentive structures “might create incentives for doctors to avoid sicker, poorer patients.” The researchers said better models, like the Comprehensive Primary Care Plus initiative, add a bigger monthly payment for higher-risk patients. (Healthcare Dive; Annals of Internal Medicine)

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Want to check your heart rhythm on the fly? A new app uses a sensor in an Apple Watch strap to continuously monitor the wearer’s heart rhythm, and may prompt you to record an electrocardiogram if something’s not right. AliveCor’s FDA-approved app and the new diagnostic tool provide monitoring capability that goes beyond the exercise-oriented heart rate sensors that have been available. (mobihealthnews)

With telemedicine poised to see 30 percent growth in the next five years, writers in the Journal of the American Medical Association propose a new specialist, the medical virtualist. It’s estimated that 30 to 50 percent of office visits could transition to a virtual encounter. Medical virtualists are envisioned to spend most of a work day in front of video screens rather than facing live patients. Training for this new specialty could include a good “webside manner,” authors explain, and subspecialties could proliferate: urgent care virtualists, neurological virtualists and behavioral virtualists among them. (JAMA Network)

While overall health care spending rose only nominally, out-of-pocket spending—what consumers shell out—rose 3.9 percent in 2016, the fastest rate of growth since 2007. Analysis of National Health Expenditure data by HealthAffairs shows that per capita spending for public heath declined, but spending in private health plans rose almost 2 percent. In a blog post, analysts say federal spending reductions don’t increase overall health system efficiency—and may even drive costs up for private payers. (HealthAffairs article; blog)

Middle-class Americans who buy individual health insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces are weighing tough choices to afford high premiums. Some qualify for federal subsidies by investing more of their income in retirement accounts, taking a pay cut, or even getting a divorce so they qualify for single coverage. Nearly half of the 17.6 million Americans who buy individual insurance don’t qualify for subsidies. (Kaiser Health News)

UHC's Optum makes bid to buy DaVita: UnitedHealth’s Optum division will acquire DaVita’s physician practice group, which operates nearly 300 primary and specialist care clinics across the country. The $4.9 billion cash deal does not include DaVita’s kidney care business. (FierceHealthcare)

Biggest hospital merger in the works: Ascension and Providence St. Joseph Health are in merger talks. If it goes through, the deal will involve 191 nonprofit hospitals in 27 states and surpass the size of HCA, the largest hospital operation in the nation. (The Wall Street Journal)

Researchers are finding that the same pain reliever intended for a headache is also effective to dull emotional pain. The effects of acetaminophen were tested among people who were processing social pain, and the medicine performed better than a placebo. Other studies show acetaminophen can reduce empathy; it can also lower feelings of distrust in others. (National Public Radio)

MarketVoices...quotes worth reading
“I'm excited about the fact that you know something about this. Drug pricing is byzantine."– Sen. Lamar Alexandr (R-Tenn), during a hearing on the nomination of Alex Azar before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, as quoted in
USA Today.


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