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Changing the Game: Increasing Access to Health for Underserved Communities

Signed in August 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act promises to reduce healthcare costs for Americans and expand health coverage in minority communities. These goals seem consistent with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2030 initiative; one that aims to evaluate, strengthen, and promote the nation’s efforts to improve the health and well-being of all people.

Is the price right?

Prescription drug prices in the United States are 2.56 times those in other countries with high economies, combined. While historically, the country’s generic-drugs costs have been low, the few brand-names drugs - which treat life-threatening illnesses - remain the highest-priced (Figure 1).

Figure 1: U.S. Brand-Name Originator Drug Prices as a Percentage of Other-Country Prices, 2018

The ways these prices are determined remain complex as there are many parties involved in the decision-making process such as pharmaceutical companies, pharmacy benefits managers, and health insurances - each adding a layer of complexity and requesting their dues.

In the United States, two-thirds of adults have at least one chronic condition - according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Additionally, 85% of older adults have a chronic disease - Blacks, Hispanic and American Indians/Native Americans (AIAN) are two times more likely than Whites to have diseases such as asthma, cancer and heart disease. Treatments usually must be taken in a particular sequence to target specific symptoms of a chronic illness; this makes these high-priced prescription drugs uniquely needed. From an economic perspective, the laws of the market apply here too: high demand for a vital product drives prices up very fast.

No deal, for some

As defined by the World Health Organization, the Social Determinants of Health (SDH) include “the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life”, including, access to affordable health of decent quality - amongst other factors. High prescription drug costs, paired with health inequities make it challenging for the elderly and certain minority groups to afford health:

  • 50 to 64-year-olds are not old enough to qualify for Medicare coverage, but they are still in need of prescriptions, and end up with high out-of-pocket costs;

  • Blacks, Latinx/Hispanics, and American Indians/Native American (AIAN) adults, generally have the highest poverty rates and more variable state uninsured rates, compared to white adults.

Now, it is one thing to afford healthcare and it is another to have access to quality healthcare services. We find it difficult to talk about one without the other: 84% of Blacks, 62% of Hispanics, 48% of Asians, and 43% of AIAN have experienced worse quality of care in comparison to White groups – according to the National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report. This Inflation Reduction Act could be the beginning of more scrutiny of the healthcare systems in America, and to targeted interventions for improving access to care for underserved populations.

Survey says …

The vast majority of Americans (about 86%) favor more government regulation to keep prescription costs down; says this Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Report.

The Inflation Reduction Act does promise that Medicare will be able to negotiate pricing after 9 to 12 years following a drug entering the market. It also creates a tax penalty for drug manufacturers if they increase prescription drug prices faster than inflation. Furthermore, it pledges to lower out-of-pocket costs for seniors and increase medical coverage for minority groups including Blacks, Latinos, and Tribal communities. These objectives are game changers as they aim to address the monopoly in the market and to lower costs for individuals.

Here at N-Touch Strategies

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or in opportunities to achieve optimal health experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.

N-Touch Strategies is proactively working with key partners across the healthcare ecosystem (pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, and non-profit organizations – such as hospital systems and patient advocacy organizations) to remove barriers and improve healthcare access to achieve health equity for everyone. Our access to underserved populations gives us a unique advantage to develop advanced insights that drive deeper strategies for impactful change.

As we are tuning into the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, we remain hopeful and dedicated to working towards a better future for all patients.

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