Good morning ... Check out this incredible ice sheet in Antarctica. It’s smooth and rectangular like a tabletop. Honestly it looks like a fake image that would spread on Twitter. But it’s real.
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, at an opioids event last year. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
The number of overdose deaths in the U.S. “has begun to plateau,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said yesterday, in advance of a White House event today at which President Trump will sign Congress' most recent opioids bill into law.
What's new: Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the death rate holding steady, after years of increases.
What’s next: The legislation Trump will sign this afternoon includes a couple of important policies, including expanded access to medication-assisted treatment. And health care companies are joining in with announcements of their own.
Meanwhile, HHS announced a new initiative yesterday to improve Medicaid treatment for women who are dependent on opioids and are pregnant or have recently given birth.
Go deeper: The youngest victims of the opioid epidemic
Americans are spending more money out of pocket every year on health care, and that trend is placing a bigger burden on poorer families than on wealthier ones.
By the numbers: The lowest-income households spend nearly 3% of their take-home pay on health care, compared to about 1% for the wealthiest families, according to new research from the JPMorgan Chase Institute.
Rising out-of-pocket spending is driving these trends, per JPMorgan. According to its report, out-of-pocket spending grew by 8.5% last year — the fastest clip in at least 3 years.
Why it matters: Substantial out-of-pocket costs, like high deductibles and coinsurance, are designed to give people more exposure to what their care really costs. And their exposure to those costs does seem to be increasing.
Express Scripts, which negotiates drug prices for 80 million Americans, may be opening the door for any mail-order pharmacy — including Amazon's newly acquired PillPack — to get full access to its large network, my colleague Bob Herman reports this morning.
Between the lines: Express Scripts, a dominant pharmacy benefit manager that is getting gobbled up by Cigna, owns a massive mail-order drug business that represents almost half of its revenue.
The big question: What's included in the company's contracts with mail-order pharmacies?
Federal regulators expect that roughly 10 million people will ultimately buy insurance on their own, but with help from their employer.
Driving the news: As we previewed in yesterday’s Vitals, the administration is making that kind of coverage easier by expanding Health Reimbursement Arrangements, or HRAs.
By the numbers: By 2024, more than 10 million people each year will be using an HRA contribution to buy individual coverage, according to estimates in the proposed regulations.
What we're watching: At least for now, the proposal says HRAs can’t be used to purchase the bare-bones, “short-term” insurance plans the administration recently expanded. But they’re asking for public comments on whether that’s the correct answer.
The controversy over prescription drug prices has touched off a spending spree for campaign ads, advocacy and lobbying.
Shot: Through its super PAC, the advocacy group Patients For Affordable Drugs has spent $10 million on the midterm elections.
Chaser: PhRMA, the industry’s leading trade organization, “has already spent $21 million on lobbying this year — a sum that puts it on course to smash its previous annual lobbying records," STAT reports.