Tackling the health care affordability crisis

As we prepare for the 2018 Lown Conference on April 9-10, we want to help you get ready as well. So we’re putting out interviews with some of our keynote speakers and panelists so you learn more about what to expect at the conference, and start getting excited!

Register for the conference and view our full program of speakers and panels on our website

To kick off the second day of the Lown 2018 Conference, a panel of clinicians, researchers, activists, and journalists are diving into the tough question of what makes health care so unaffordable, and exploring how we can tackle the problem from all sides.

A critical reason why health costs are burdensome is that it’s difficult to shop around for health care services. Jeanne Pinder, CEO of Clear Health Costs, believes that journalism can be a tool for price transparency in health care. 

“People who are trying to shop for health care are angry and confused, because they don’t understand this whole pricing system,” said Pinder, “Giving them agency and leverage to compare costs can save them hundreds and thousands of dollars.”

But even for those who can shop around, health care – especially prescription drugs – can be exorbitantly expensive. Reshma Ramachadran, family medicine resident at Kaiser Permanente and member of the National Physicians Alliance FDA Task Force, is working with states across the country to develop anti-price-gouging legislation for pharmaceuticals. 

In 2025, drug spending will make up half of health care spending” said Ramachadran. We need transparency and price controls, not just for drug manufacturers, but also for pharmacy benefit managers, who often make prices higher for patients to give themselves a larger cut, she said. 

In the fight to lower drug prices, universities can be a resource, said Alexandra Greenberg from Universities Allied for Essential Medicines. We often forget that universities develop these drugs (often with public funding) before they are licensed to pharmaceutical companies. Competition and transparency are helpful, but we need to think about how we can make these drugs more affordable in the first place, said Greenberg. 

Another contributor to health care costs is the prevalence of waste and low-value care. Physician and health services researcher Bruce Landon will discuss how the amount of low-value care in our health system affects cost and affordability. But the solutions to this problem are not straightforward. Value-based insurance may reduce low-value services, but doesn’t allow for the rare cases where an “unnecessary” service is actually indicated and helpful, says Landon. 

Although the panelists all have different backgrounds and areas of expertise, they are hoping the discussion will lead to ideas that will incorporate transparency, activism, and high-value care. For example, what if Clear Health Costs’ price transparency tool also included resources for patients to find out if they need certain health services or not? Or engaging doctors in more activist efforts for affordable drug legislation? We all want more affordable health care, so why not work together for change!