Health insurance companies are not concerned yet that the new coronavirus is going to drive up their medical claims and spending.
The big picture: More people will need expensive hospitalizations to treat COVID-19, which has turned into a full-blown public health emergency. But insurers view the outbreak as an "extension of the flu season," according to a Wall Street bank that spoke with insurance executives last week.
Medicare has released the prices of COVID-19 tests: $35.92 for the tests developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and $51.33 for all other commercial tests.
The bottom line: These are the prices that labs bill Medicare. Most health insurers have waived copays for coronavirus tests, meaning you won't have to pay anything upfront. If you receive bills for any amount, especially if they are higher than these prices, you should appeal.
Some hospital systems are temporarily pausing bills for any patients who receive care related to the new coronavirus.
Why it matters: Receiving costly medical bills could discourage people from seeking care even as the outbreak worsens. However, it's unclear what patients' financial obligations will look like once the pandemic simmers.
Advocate Aurora Health, a 28-hospital system spanning Illinois and Wisconsin, said Thursday that it is temporarily "refraining from sending patient bills related to coronavirus as we continue to work with regulatory and industry officials to navigate this developing situation."
Why it matters: A spokesperson for Advocate Aurora Health said this is not a commitment to waive fees indefinitely and the system may send out bills later, but it's still among the first hospital systems to hit pause on any coronavirus billing. Experts have been worried that the potential of receiving costly medical bills could discourage people from seeking care even as the outbreak worsens.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced yesterday that it's launching a new voluntary model that would allow seniors to buy insulin with no more than a $35 monthly copay.
Why it matters: Medicare beneficiaries who rely on insulin and are enrolled in a participating plan would save an average of $446 a year in out-of-pocket costs. This move may not target the overall price of insulin, but it could meaningfully lower what seniors pay themselves for it.
The Colorado legislature introduced its public option bill yesterday, taking one step further in one of the country's most timely health policy experiments.
Between the lines: The bill takes on hospitals as part of how it lowers costs, which is likely what Democrats would end up trying to do should they win the presidency.
In 2018, the year the Republican tax law went into full effect, 12 of the largest pharmaceutical companies spent more money buying back their stock than they spent on drug research and development.
The big picture: When billions of dollars became available to the biggest drug companies, their main priority was to juice earnings, along with the paydays of their executives and investors — not investments in new treatments or relief for patients who can't afford their drugs.
The price of brand-name prescription drugs went up by 60% between 2007 and 2018, after accounting for rebates and discounts, according to a new study in JAMA.
Why it matters: Drugmakers often argue that the uproar over drug prices is overblown, saying it focuses too much on list prices instead of the discounted prices insurance plans end up paying. But this study shows that those prices, too, are rising.
The coronavirus may soon become a high-stakes reminder of the flaws in the U.S. health care system.
Why it matters: Our expensive, inaccessible health care system could easily make it harder to control the virus' spread, failing individual patients and putting more people at risk in the process.
Sandoz, the generic drug unit of pharmaceutical giant Novartis, has admitted that it colluded with other companies to inflate the prices of various generic drugs and is paying $195 million to resolve charges, the Department of Justice said Monday.
Why it matters: This is the largest criminal penalty in a U.S. antitrust case, and Sandoz is now the third company to admit guilt within the wide-ranging scheme to fix prices of generic drugs. Sandoz's admission implicates more generic drugmakers.