PatientEngagementHIT

Senators Urge HELP Committee to Reassess Patient Access to Care

In a letter to HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, a group of Senators emphasize the issue of healthcare costs and how they affect patient access to care.

A bipartisan group of US Senators is urging the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to shift its focus to patient perspectives on access to care, particularly in light of rising healthcare costs.

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The letter, addressed to HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray, underscores the need to take patient experiences into consideration when assessing healthcare costs and how they affect patient access to care.

In the letter, the signatories – led by Senators Christopher S. Murphy and Shelley Moore Capito – detail their experiences with consulting patients about their access to healthcare, explaining that cost was the main inhibitor to getting necessary treatments.

“We have heard from several patient groups with chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, and psoriasis, on the difficulties of accessing care and treatment,” the bipartisan group recalls. “We write to request that you review patient perspectives on access to care, particularly on high out-of-pocket costs for treatment.”

Patients managing chronic illness often need more access to specialty care, which causes an issue considering climbing costs and limited access to healthcare. Added to the  costs of health insurance premiums, chronically ill patients aren’t always able to afford their treatments.

“The use of specialty tiers as well as co-insurance is skyrocketing,” the group writes. “Cost sharing can reach as high as 30%-60%, causing a significant financial burden and leading to poor adherence and non-adherence.”

Poor care and medication adherence only exacerbates the problem. A February 2015 study shows that medication non-adherence brings millions in avoidable costs annually, not to mention the negative effects non-adherence has on patients’ wellbeing. When patients do not follow treatment plans, they run the risk of falling increasingly ill in the long run.

As medications and other treatments continue to improve, thus boosting the quality of life for patients managing chronic illnesses, it is important that the industry allow for adequate patient access to healthcare. The ground-breaking treatments that have recently emerged in the industry are ineffective it patients cannot pay for and access them, the group asserts.

“Innovative medicines and treatment advancements have greatly improved the quality of life for patients suffering from debilitating, chronic diseases,” the signatories says. “Accessing the care needed is critical for these patients to achieve optimal health outcomes. Delays in treatment can result in irreversible disease progression and even, exacerbate the cost of care for both the patient and the health system.”

To that end, the group calls on the HELP Committee to hold a hearing, roundtable, or other assessment to review patient perspectives on their access to healthcare and to better understand how growing healthcare costs inhibit their treatments.

Recent research supports the claims of the Senators, showing that despite high levels of patient satisfaction, most patients don’t engage with the healthcare system because it is simply too expensive.

A recent survey released by The Physicians Foundation shows that nearly 90 percent of patients are satisfied with the care they receive, and face generally high availability of healthcare services (nearly 50 percent of patients are able to obtain an appointment within one day of falling ill).

Despite all of that, the survey found that healthcare costs weigh heavily on patients’ minds, with one in four patients having skipped a treatment or follow-up appointment due to high costs. Eighteen percent have skipped medication doses, while 27 percent have skipped filling the prescription altogether.

Considering these results, many healthcare professionals are making similar propositions as the Senator coalition. In order to make healthcare as strong and effective as possible, they argue, industry stakeholders will need to assess healthcare costs and how they affect patient access to healthcare.

“Affordability of care has unquestionable impact on access,” said Walker Ray, MD, president of The Physicians Foundation.

“The responses we saw in our survey regarding non- or partial-compliance with care plans due to financial pressures must be a red flag for everyone invested in improving patient care. It is incumbent upon the entire healthcare community to ensure patients have access to quality healthcare services that they feel they can actually afford. Otherwise outcomes suffer.”

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