AS THE YEAR draws to a close, with COVID still raging, the sad reality is that the next weeks to a few months could be quite challenging. The hope here is that those who become infected do not get seriously ill (whether fully vaccinated or not) and that our health care system, its workers, and first responders do not get overwhelmed.

Our focus is understandably on the clinical and public health issues tied to COVID, but there is another emergency associated with this pandemic — the rising cost of health care.

I was blown away last week to learn that the US experienced an overall 9.7 percent increase in total US health care spending in 2020. With a net decline of 2.2 percent in total US GDP from the COVID-caused recession, health care spending rose to be about 19.7 percent of our total US economy (likely higher here in Massachusetts)—the most ever on a percentage basis…

…One additional area of concern is drug pricing. The Health Policy Commission is particularly concerned about high-cost specialty drugs as well as others under patent protection that are priced way beyond their true value to patients (e.g., witness what just happened with aducanumab a new drug recently approved for Alzheimer’s disease that experts have criticized as not having clinical value). Building on the commission’s current authority on Medicaid drug spending, the agency is asking that it be given drug pricing review authority for medications which can significantly impact spending for privately insured patients. Health Care For All and others are also calling for the law to include provisions for cost assistance for certain chronic disease medications that disproportionately impact people of color or those who are at increased risk if they become sick with COVID. My hope is that Senate Bill 771, sponsored by Sen. Cindy Friedman of Arlington gets due consideration to advance all of these important goals.

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