Eighty-two percent of Americans believe our health care system is broken. No matter who takes the White House in November, it’s clear health care reform must top the agenda.
The Affordable Care Act certainly got a few things right, including protections for those with pre-existing conditions, but its future is uncertain. While the Supreme Court debates whether to take up the administration’s request to invalidate the law, meaningful health care reform – not just insurance reform – cannot wait.
We’re on the right track, for now. A series of recent executive orders and policy initiatives have helped address key issues of accessibility and affordability for millions of Americans.
Chief among these were two orders that sought to lower prescription drug costs, something almost 80% of Americans say are unreasonable. That included a mandate on discounts for low-income Americans for everyday drugs, including insulin and epinephrine, at federally qualified health centers. Another prohibited sweetheart deals between pharmacy benefit managers and drug manufacturers. That’s good news for patients, who often have prescription costs driven up by PBM “middlemen,” instead of having the appropriate savings passed on to them.
There’s also the issue of Americans overpaying for prescription drugs, while those in other countries pay far less for similar medicines. To level the playing field, another executive order allowed for the importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other countries, where drug prices are often lower. As a longer-term solution, there’s even been talk of requiring drug developers to manufacture pharmaceuticals in the United States – instead of outsourcing to other countries.
Another crucial factor increasing access to care, as well as affordability, is flexible policies for telemedicine. During the coronavirus pandemic, those on lockdown or in quarantine needed a way to maintain their routine health visits. This was particularly critical for our elderly population, which was at a higher risk for contracting the virus, as well as for Amercians living in rural areas.
Although telemedicine had been around for a while, many restrictions made it difficult for patients to use. Their provider might not be covered, or their insurance may not reimburse telehealth visits fully, especially for those using Medicare. Fortunately, our federal government worked quickly to expand the type of services that could be covered by telehealth. After that, we saw a 4,300% nationwide jump in telehealth usage compared to before the pandemic.
Additional efforts to expand access to telemedicine are jump starting innovation, which will ultimately drive down costs. For elderly patients, this could take the form of wearable devices that provide contact tracing services, or monitor them for symptoms. It could also mean sharing vitals or other data with doctors in real time, to better track treatment outcomes.
For the almost 60 million Americans living in rural areas, access to this type of care could quite literally be the difference between life and death. When the closest doctor might be miles away, your options are limited. During a pandemic, they’re essentially nonexistent. To make matters worse, many of these areas have seen massive hospital closures in recent years, as well as doctor shortages, that have only been exacerbated by coronavirus.
But expanded access to telehealth services means lack of transportation no longer needs to be an impediment to getting care. Connecting more patients with doctors for even routine visits could mean earlier diagnosis of potentially chronic conditions, including heart disease and cancer, of which those in rural areas are more likely to die from than their urban counterparts.
If we’ve learned anything from the past few months, it’s that improving our health care system should be a top priority. No matter what happens on election day, these common sense solutions should be embraced by both sides of the aisle.
Jan Dubauskas is a health care expert, enthusiastic insurance pro, attorney and mom serving as vice president of healthinsurance.com.