Health Highlights: April 14, 2008

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Some People Face Huge Drug Costs Under New Policies

Under new policies being adopted by health insurance companies, patients have to pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars for expensive prescription medications that can slow the progress of serious diseases or save their lives, The New York Times reported.

Traditionally, patients paid a fixed price for a prescription, no matter what the drug actually cost. Now, many insurers are charging patients a percentage (often 20 percent to 33 percent) of the cost of hundreds of expensive medications, including those used to treat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, hemophilia, hepatitis C and some types of cancer.


Since there aren't less expensive options, patients have to pay or do without the drugs. As a result, some patients drug expenses are higher than their mortgages or even than their monthly incomes, The Times reported.

Insurers say this new system, called Tier 4, helps keep everyone's drug premiums down at a time when some new treatments for diseases such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis can cost $100,000 a year.

But the Tier 4 system leaves seriously ill people with massive drug bills, James Robinson, a health economist at the University of California, Berkeley, told The Times.

"It is a very unfortunate social policy. The more the sick person pays, the less the healthy person pays," he said.


Baby Boomers May Overwhelm Health System: Report

Aging American baby boomers could swamp the country's health care system for seniors, warns an Institute of Medicine report cited Monday by the Associated Press.

The report evaluates the state of future health care for the 78 million baby boomers about to start reaching age 65. Among its findings:

  • There aren't enough geriatric medicine specialists. Currently, there are about 7,100 doctors certified in geriatrics in the United States, which works out to one per 2,500 older Americans. There's insufficient training, and geriatric specialists are underpaid.
  • Turnover among nurse aides averages 71 percent a year, and as many as 90 percent of home health aides leave their jobs within the first two years.
  • Medicare doesn't provide for team care that's required by many elderly patients.
  • Elderly people tend to be healthier and live longer than in previous generations, but people aged 65 and older often have more complex conditions and health care needs than younger people.

"We face an impending crisis as the growing number of older patients, who are living longer with more complex health needs, increasingly outpace the number of health care providers with the knowledge and skills to care for them capably," said John W. Rowe, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University, the AP reported.

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