I know you like free enterprise, and mention death panels... here's the two of them in the same sentence......
Executives of three of the nation's largest health insurers told federal lawmakers in Washington on Tuesday that they would continue canceling medical coverage for some sick policyholders, despite withering criticism from Republican and Democratic members of Congress who decried the practice as unfair and abusive.
The hearing on the controversial action known as rescission, which has left thousands of Americans burdened with costly medical bills despite paying insurance premiums, began a day after President Obama outlined his proposals for revamping the nation's healthcare system.
An investigation by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations showed that health insurers WellPoint Inc., UnitedHealth Group and Assurant Inc. canceled the coverage of more than 20,000 people, allowing the companies to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims over a five-year period.
It also found that policyholders with breast cancer, lymphoma and more than 1,000 other conditions were targeted for rescission and that employees were praised in performance reviews for terminating the policies of customers with expensive illnesses.
"No one can defend, and I certainly cannot defend, the practice of canceling coverage after the fact," said Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.), a member of the committee. "There is no acceptable minimum to denying coverage after the fact."
The executives -- Richard A. Collins, chief executive of UnitedHealth's Golden Rule Insurance Co.; Don Hamm, chief executive of Assurant Health and Brian Sassi, president of consumer business for WellPoint Inc., parent of Blue Cross of California -- were courteous and matter-of-fact in their testimony.
But they would not commit to limiting rescissions to only policyholders who intentionally lie or commit fraud to obtain coverage, a refusal that met with dismay from legislators on both sides of the political aisle.
Experts said it could undermine the industry's efforts to influence healthcare-overhaul plans working their way toward the White House.
"Talk about tone deaf," said Robert Laszewski, a former health insurance executive who now counsels companies as a consultant.
Democratic strategist Paul Begala said the hearing could hurt the industry's efforts to position itself in the debate.
"The industry has tried very hard in this current effort not to be the bad guy, not to wear the black hat," Begala said. "The trouble is all that hard work and goodwill is at risk if in fact they are pursuing" such practices.
Rescission was largely hidden until three years ago, when The Times launched a series of stories disclosing that insurers routinely canceled the medical coverage of individual policyholders who required expensive medical care.
Sassi said rescissions are necessary to prevent people who lie about preexisting conditions from obtaining coverage and driving up costs for others.
"I want to emphasize that rescission is about stopping fraud and material misrepresentations that contribute to spiraling healthcare costs," Sassi told the committee.
But rescission victims testified that their policies were canceled for inadvertent omissions or honest mistakes about medical history on their applications. Rescission, they said, was about improving corporate profits rather than rooting out fraud.
"It's about the money," said Jennifer Wittney Horton, a Los Angeles woman whose policy was rescinded after failure to report a weight-loss medication she was no longer taking and irregular menstruation.
"Insurers ignore the law, and when they find a discrepancy or omission, they rescind the policy and refuse to pay any of your medical bills -- even for routine treatment or treatment they previously authorized," Horton said.
She and others from around the country accused insurers in testimony of gaming anti-fraud laws to take policyholders' premiums, only to drop people who developed serious illnesses. They testified that they or a deceased loved one had had policies canceled over innocent mistakes and inadvertent omissions on their applications.
A Texas nurse said she lost her coverage, after she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, for failing to disclose a visit to a dermatologist for acne.
The sister of an Illinois man who died of lymphoma said his policy was rescinded for the failure to report a possible aneurysm and gallstones that his physician noted in his chart but did not discuss with him.
The committee's investigation found that WellPoint's Blue Cross targeted individuals with more than 1,400 conditions, including breast cancer, lymphoma, pregnancy and high blood pressure. And the committee obtained documents that showed Blue Cross supervisors praised employees in performance reviews for rescinding policies.
One employee, for instance, received a perfect 5 for "exceptional performance" on an evaluation that noted the employee's role in dropping thousands of policyholders and avoiding nearly $10 million worth of
Specialists in infectious disease are protesting a gigantic overnight increase in the price of a 62-year-old drug that is the standard of care for treating a life-threatening parasitic infection.
The drug, called Daraprim, was acquired in August by Turing Pharmaceuticals, a start-up run by a former hedge fund manager. Turing immediately raised the price to $750 a tablet from $13.50, bringing the annual cost of treatment for some patients to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“What is it that they are doing differently that has led to this dramatic increase?” said Dr. Judith Aberg, the chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She said the price increase could force hospitals to use “alternative therapies that may not have the same efficacy.”
Turing’s price increase is not an isolated example. While most of the attention on pharmaceutical prices has been on new drugs for diseases like cancer, hepatitis C and high cholesterol, there is also growing concern about huge price increases on older drugs, some of them generic, that have long been mainstays of treatment.
Martin Shkreli is the founder and chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, which raised the price of the drug Daraprim to $750 a tablet from $13.50. Credit Paul Taggart/Bloomberg, via Getty Images
Although some price increases have been caused by shortages, others have resulted from a business strategy of buying old neglected drugs and turning them into high-priced “specialty drugs.”
Cycloserine, a drug used to treat dangerous multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, was just increased in price to $10,800 for 30 pills from $500 after its acquisition by Rodelis Therapeutics. Scott Spencer, general manager of Rodelis, said the company needed to invest to make sure the supply of the drug remained reliable. He said the company provided the drug free to certain needy patients.
In August, two members of Congress investigating generic drug price increases wrote to Valeant Pharmaceuticals after that company acquired two heart drugs, Isuprel and Nitropress, from Marathon Pharmaceuticals and promptly raised their prices by 525 percent and 212 percent respectively. Marathon had acquired the drugs from another company in 2013 and had quintupled their prices, according to the lawmakers, Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, and Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland.
Doxycycline, an antibiotic, went from $20 a bottle in October 2013 to $1,849 by April 2014, according to the two lawmakers.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association sent a joint letter to Turing earlier this month calling the price increase for Daraprim “unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population” and “unsustainable for the health care system.” An organization representing the directors of state AIDS programs has also been looking into the price increase, according to doctors and patient advocates.
Daraprim, known generically as pyrimethamine, is used mainly to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasite infection that can cause serious or even life-threatening problems for babies born to women who become infected during pregnancy, and also for people with compromised immune systems, like AIDS patients and certain cancer patients.
Martin Shkreli, the founder and chief executive of Turing, said that the drug is so rarely used that the impact on the health system would be minuscule and that Turing would use the money it earns to develop better treatments for toxoplasmosis, with fewer side effects.
“This isn’t the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients, it is us trying to stay in business,” Mr. Shkreli said. He said that many patients use the drug for far less than a year and that the price was now more in line with those of other drugs for rare diseases.
“This is still one of the smallest pharmaceutical products in the world,” he said. “It really doesn’t make sense to get any
Don't know about you, but this type of stuff (2 above story links, be sure you don't read them!!!!) really makes me sick. You can jack up the prices of most anything, but when people are dying because they now can't afford their meds, there's something consummately wrong with this picture.
Pharmaceutical companies are not my favorites and IMO a major contributor to medical costs. All doctors seem to do is prescribe so I tend to treat myself with supplements. Hawthorn berry keeps my blood pressure at the level it was in my 20s. My fear now is that big brother will decide to control supplements and the pharmaceutical companies would love that. Pharmaceutical companies develop second generation drugs to keep them in patent protection. I worked in the pharmacy on mission trips to Russia, Siberia and Ethiopia. My missionary doctor friend is able to get first generation drugs for 10 cents or less on the dollar and drugs nearing expiration date for free. Drugs are generally good for a year or more past expiration date but the countries I mentioned will not permit out of date drugs and show suspicion if the date is near.
"A pen in the hand of this president is far more dangerous than a gun in the hands of 200 million law-abiding citizens."