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Rx chains help keep ACA focused on consumers

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LAKEWOOD, Ohio — Highlighting the Obama administration’s partnerships with drug chains to boost health plan enrollment, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell last month toured a CVS/pharmacy store here.

Burwell’s visit also was intended to urge people to sign up for health insurance by the February 15 deadline in the current open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act.
“We’ve focused deeply this open enrollment on the customer, the consumer,” she said.

Collaborating with pharmacy chains will allow the government to reach people where they shop, she added.

Burwell was accompanied at the store by Mary Langowski, executive vice president for strategy, policy and market development at CVS Health.

“Across our company, we see millions of patients daily and we know that consumers are playing an increasingly active role in their health care and coverage decisions,” said Langowski. “Pharmacies like CVS are a vital health care delivery channel — for services like immunizations and screenings, for information and for care coordination. We play an increasingly important role in helping solve the patchwork of care and gaps in health care delivery — and in giving consumers greater access to the health care and information they need and want.”

CVS Health, Rite Aid Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance are all educating shoppers about insurance options with in-store and online resources. In announcing Burwell’s visit, HHS noted that CVS was conducting more than 5,300 health insurance education events in stores.

Shortly after Burwell’s visit, the Commonwealth Fund reported that the ACA had eased health care cost concerns for millions of people.

The number of Americans saying they did not receive needed care because of its cost dropped last year for the first time since 2003, falling from 80 million in 2012 to 66 million. And the number saying they had trouble paying their medical bills or were paying off medical debt fell from 75 million in 2012 to 64 million — the first time it declined since the question was initially asked in 2005.

Among other indicators of improved care, the organization’s 2014 Biennial Health Insurance Survey found that the share of respondents who did not fill a prescription fell to 19% from 27%. The number who did not visit a doctor or clinic when they had a medical problem also dropped, to 23% from 29%.

“These declines are remarkable and unprecedented in the survey’s history,” said Sara Collins, vice president of health care coverage and access at the Commonwealth Fund and the study’s lead author. “They indicate that the Affordable Care Act is beginning to help people afford the health care they need. We also found sharp declines in the uninsured rate nationwide. Unfortunately, we’re still seeing high uninsured rates in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid.”

According to the report, the number of uninsured working-age Americans fell from 37 million, or 20%, in 2010 to 29 million, or 16%, in 2014. The largest declines were among people who were the most likely to have been uninsured in the past — young adults and individuals with low incomes.

Also in January, health care company leaders said they expect the ACA will remain law despite Republican opposition and a Supreme Court challenge. Executives at the annual J.P. Morgan health care conference said the law has become too entrenched to reject.
In the event the Supreme Court reverses the law, Aetna Inc. is discussing a compromise with Republican and Democratic officials, Reuters said.


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