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Clinicians Doubt Patient Care Access, Costs Reduction Progress

Seventy-one percent of clinicians said improving healthcare affordability, reducing costs, and improving patient care access were top 2019 priorities.

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Source: Getty Images

By Sara Heath

- Reducing patient healthcare costs and increasing patient access to care are key priorities in 2019, most clinicians agree, but there isn’t much hope that the industry will achieve these goals, according to a recent poll from InCrowd.

The survey of 200 clinicians revealed that reducing out-of-pocket patient costs and increasing patient access to care are top healthcare priorities for this year. Seventy-one percent of respondents said healthcare affordability was the most important improvement area for 2019, while 41 percent ranked better access to medications and therapies as most important.

In contrast, only 15 percent of clinician respondents said speed of drug development was important and only 5 percent said breadth of drug development was a high priority area.

Instead, 95 percent of respondents said cost control measures would be critical for this year. Twelve percent of clinicians said they want to see greater health insurance coverage.

Nine percent of respondents said they want to see increased price transparency, 7 percent prioritized better generic drug availability, 5 percent expressed interest in better healthcare cost regulations, and 1 percent said there needs to be improvements in patient cost-sharing and copayment agreements.

When a respondent did not rank patient care access or healthcare affordability as a leading priority, they tended to select other areas that would indirectly impact healthcare prices or access. For example, one provider selected improvements to drug development as critical in 2019 because those changes would circuitously impact the cost of medications and patient access to those medications.

“Side effects increase the cost of treatment, and improved drug efficacy will help decrease the cost to patient overall,” said the California-based primary care physician. This respondent ranked drug development improvements for patient safety and efficacy as the top necessary industry change.

Although clinicians are able to pinpoint the areas in which they think the industry must improve, they are not optimistic these changes will happen.

Only 32 percent of survey respondents said they think improvements will be made to patient care access within the next year. In fact, most clinicians predicted that fewer patients will have access to comprehensive healthcare coverage, which directly impacts patient access to treatment.

Eighty-two percent of patients said they believe healthcare prices will remain stagnant in 2019.

The jury is still out regarding who is to blame for the static healthcare industry. While some respondents cited greedy industry leaders who did not want to make improvements to the patients’ benefits, others said industry payment models and other regulations lacked the incentive to lower costs and improve care access.

Clinicians do have some role to play in meeting these goals, the respondents acknowledged. Thirty-nine percent said they as clinicians have an obligation to stay informed about drug prices. Thirty-eight percent said they must commit to using generic drugs and 14 percent said they must forego ordering expensive tests when they are not absolutely necessary.

Additionally, changes to how medications are marketed could have a positive impact on treatment affordability. Specifically, limiting spending on direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertisements could end up reducing patient costs, or at least limit the number of patients accessing an expensive brand name, according to 52 percent of respondents.

The healthcare industry is making some headway in this area. Recently proposed rulemaking called on better price transparency in DTC drug advertisements. Drug manufacturers would need to provide the list price of a medication in DTC ads, which will ideally create market pressure to reduce the costs of these drugs. However, the proposal is currently under dispute from the nation’s largest drug lobbies.

Additionally, CMS and HHS have proposed several strategies to reform drug pricing in Medicare, which would ideally spark changes across the healthcare industry. By allowing for more dynamic price negotiations and creating other reforms, the agencies hope cost savings will trickle down to patients.

These reforms have also received scrutiny, with many industry groups expressing concern that CMS and HHS proposals will limit patient access to specialty drugs or inadvertently increase costs for seniors.

Although the survey did not reveal any tangible solutions to the healthcare expense and patient care access issue, it did highlight the importance clinicians place on these issues.

“There are millions of patients in this country with chronic illness who cannot afford their necessary medications, which is a crime in the richest country in the world,” concluded one respondent, who is a specialist from New York.

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