PFCD and Chronic Disease in the News This Week

April 16, 2012

Our lead in this week’s roundup of relevant news from last week spotlights comments made by Ken Thorpe, Ph.D., chair of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, in a Wall Street Journal article that focused on Tuesday’s Institute of Medicine report proposing a new tax on medical care that would finance improvements to public-health services in the U.S. The report states that the U. S. health system focuses too heavily on treating people when they get sick, rather than preventing the illness altogether. This is especially critical when you consider that costly and debilitating chronic diseases are now responsible for 84 percent of health care spending in the U.S.  To better leverage the recommendations from the IOM, which focused on health services from public health agencies only, Thorpe pointed out that we should define expectations for what health plans provide as part of the definition of essential benefits – including prevention, wellness and care coordination – so they could build their own multi-tiered prevention efforts .  Doing so, according to Thorpe, would expand access to prevention services to millions of Americans who do not use local public health departments.

The article is worth noting because not only does it provide promise into the increased focus on and investment in prevention strategies, as opposed to clinical care, but it also reaffirms the well-respected and trusted resources we have in our PFCD staff, board and partners, including Ken Thorpe.  Additional news highlights on the topic of chronic disease prevention and management can be found below. 

  • A study published in the April issue of the journal Health Affairs offers insight into the “what’s next” when it comes to cancer care innovation in the United States. As Kaiser Health News summarized, the study shows that higher U.S. spending for cancer care pays off in almost two years of additional life for American cancer patients on average compared to their European counterparts — a value that offsets the higher costs.  The authors of the study said, “We found that the value of the survival gains greatly outweighed the costs, which suggests that the costs of cancer care were indeed ‘worth it.’” Given that cancer is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the U.S. today, this study showcases the importance of innovation that improves both the length and quality of life for the millions affected by cancer.
  • Leading into June’s National Employee Wellness Month, this week we want to recognize PFCD partner Johnson & Johnson for their remarkable achievements in workplace wellness outcomes.  For decades, Johnson & Johnson has not only encouraged employees to lead healthier lifestyles, but has also provided them with the tools and assistance to help accomplish this goal.  Their investment and commitment has paid off for both employees and the company’s bottom line when it comes to health care costs.  According to Efrem Dlugacz, Vice President, Corporate Benefits, Johnson & Johnson, “our focus on health and wellness among our U.S. workforce has helped reduce per-capita health-plan costs by $400 per employee per year (based on 2007 data) and significantly improved overall employee health and productivity. The rate of heart disease at Johnson & Johnson is 41 percent below national standards, and the rate of high blood pressure is 75 percent below national standards.”  As other companies look to implement well-developed, sustainable workplace wellness programs, the Johnson & Johnson model is one that most certainly could – and should – be studied and replicated.  More information on the program components and success stories of employees can be found here.
  • In other health care news from the week, more than 100 patient advocacy groups issued a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius expressing concerns about sufficiency of coverage for prescription medicines in the essential health benefits bulletin HHS issued in December.  Specifically, the groups stated that the requiring health insurance plans to cover just one drug from each class is insufficient and “won’t be of much help to patients with chronic diseases and disabilities.”  Also, according to the groups, the guidance in the bulletin on medication coverage falls below the government’s existing minimum prescription drug standards and creates a threshold that “is far lower than current standard practice in the private insurance market.” The letter urges the Secretary to reconsider and revise the drug coverage requirement.