By Chris Hakim, general manager and senior vice president, eHealth.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers face growing pressure from legislators, employers and consumers to control prescription drug costs, which have increased by as much as 15 percent between 2008 and 2016. In late February, a congressional committee grilled executives from seven pharmaceutical companies over relentless price hikes and common industry practices that block competition. All along the health care chain, demands for greater transparency and calls to put consumers first are getting louder.
Clearly, there is no magic bullet to tame rising pharmaceutical costs. There is, however, evidence that absent political action, technology can be an effective weapon against price inflation. We witness this dynamic first hand at eHealth, most prominently among seniors, who are putting the power of information and effective technology-based tools to work for themselves as they shop for Medicare coverage.
What’s more, we’ve seen the use of online transparency tools grow. During the recent the 2019 Medicare open enrollment period, eHealth’s provider lookup tool was used by 47 percent of people shopping for 2019 coverage compared to just 5 percent the year before. In addition, 30 percent of people buying Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans used the tool compared to 18 percent during the previous annual enrollment period. And nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of customers who bought Medicare Part D plans through eHealth used the online prescription drug coverage comparison tool; those who enrolled in the recommended plan found a median potential annual savings of $531 on prescription drugs.
Data show that seniors are likely to use technology at increasingly higher rates. Four-in-10 now own smartphones, more than double the number in 2013, and 66 percent of individuals 65 and over use the internet, up from 43 percent in 2010. Among so-called “senior surfers,” 53 percent go online for information about health care or medical issues.
Corralling drug costs is key to Medicare’s future
Rising health care costs — drug prices in particular — are viewed by seniors as the number one threat to the future of Medicare.
The most recent eHealth Medicare Consumer Survey found that 64 percent of respondents don’t believe the program will survive their children’s generation. The number one threat to the long-term viability of the program, according to most respondents: prescription drug costs. Seventy-three percent said drug prices should be capped to help ensure the future of Medicare.
Seniors currently covered by Medicare, along with the approximately 10,000 Americans aging into the program each day, represent a powerful constituency that will continue to pressure both legislators and industry to take action toward providing relief from the burden of rising costs. Technology will surely be one way in which they exert their power.
Those entering the Medicare program today have spent decades relying on technology, both at work and in their personal lives. They are likely to demand the same convenience and technology-based tools they’ve come to rely on in other aspects of their lives to manage their health. In the coming years, this cohort will increasingly shop online for health plans, medications and medical services once only accessible in the analog world. Their consumerism will be a significant force in the growing pressure to contain and reduce healthcare costs.