KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Costly Specialty Medications Help Triple Medicare Spending For Patients With High Drug Costs

Federal spending for Medicare Part D catastrophic coverage — which pays 80 percent of all drug costs once a Medicare beneficiary hits a spending threshold each month — spiked to $33 billion in 2015, a government report shows.

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Spending More On Specialty Drugs Under Medicare
Federal spending on a Medicare program for people with high drug costs has ballooned over the past five years, largely due to the soaring costs of expensive specialty medications, a new government report has found. Federal payments for Medicare Part D catastrophic coverage, which pays 80% of drug costs after a beneficiary has spent a certain amount annually, surpassed $33 billion in 2015, more than triple the amount paid in 2010. (Hackman, 1/5)

In other Medicare news —

Boston Globe: Seniors Face Big Hikes For Blue Cross Medicare
Thousands of seniors enrolled in Medicare plans through the state’s largest health insurer will see their monthly premiums jump by as much as one-third this year. The increases for Medicare Advantage customers of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts range from $10 a month to about $60 a month, depending on the plan. Blue Cross said it had to raise premiums to make up for a decline in federal reimbursements and to contend with the higher costs of medical care and prescription drugs. (Dayal McCluskey, 1/4)

Bay Area News Group: Diagnosing Alzheimer’s: Medicare Now Pays Doctors To Stop And Assess Memory Loss
After years of pressure from patient advocate groups, starting this month, Medicare will reimburse doctors for the time it takes to test patients with cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, at any stage, and offer information about care planning. While that may seem odd to many who might assume that doctors — mostly primary care physicians — would already be doing this, that’s not always the case. (Seipel, 1/4)

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