Looking Back: 7 Important Health and Insurance Stories from 2022
With 2022 now in the rear-view mirror, let’s take a moment to look at some of key health care and health insurance-related news from last year.
Reduced Life Expectancy
Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in December 2022 shows the average life expectancy for Americans declined by more than seven months. The most-recent decrease follows a big decline of 1.8 years in 2020. The average expected life span for someone born in the U.S. is now 76.4 years. That is the shortest life span forecast in nearly two decades.
While preliminary data for 2022 indicates fewer deaths related to COVID-19, lives claimed in 2021 by the pandemic exceeded 416,000. That made COVID-19 the third-leading cause of death for the second consecutive year.
Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, more than one million U.S. deaths have been attributed to the coronavirus. Heart disease, still the leading cause of deaths in the U.S., cancer, diabetes, and kidney disease also were up. Deaths due to drug overdoses were up 14%, quintupling in two decades. Two-thirds of drug deaths were attributed to fentanyl, although methamphetamine and cocaine rose sharply, too.
Overturn of Roe vs. Wade
Regardless of which side of the abortion debate you are on, the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the law in 2022 was big news. After nearly a half century, a conservative majority of the jurists overturned the Constitutional right to abortion and eliminated federal standards on abortion access established by earlier cases, Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Now, it is up to each state to establish laws protecting or restricting abortion absent a federal standard.
The country is split about Roe, and its reversal. Pew Research Center reported in July that six in 10 adults (57%) disapproved of the court’s action. Forty-three percent strongly disapproved. Looking at it through a political lens, among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 82% disapprove, including 66% who strongly disapprove. For Republicans and Republican-leaning individuals, 70% approve of the ruling, 48% strongly approve. Among men, opinion is closely divided – 52% disapprove and 47% approve. For women, 62% disapprove (47% strongly).
Voters in California in November approved Proposition 1, a direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. (The State Senate acted to put the measure on the fall ballot after the court’s June announcement.) Proposition 1 amends the state constitution and guarantees Californians the right to abortion and contraception. More than two-thirds of voters (66.88%) supported the measure. Because critics say the language in the constitutional amendment is too broad, many expect legal challenges.
In May, there was a single case of Monkeypox (now known as Mpox) in the U.S. Three months later, the case count was 13,500 nationally.
According to the California Department of Public Health, Mpox frequently starts with symptoms like the flu – fever, swollen lymph nodes, general body aches, and low energy. After the fever, most infected people develop a rash. Sores go through several stages, including scabs, before healing. The condition can be painful and itchy.
Individuals with Mpox can spread the condition from the time symptoms start until all sores are healed, scabs disappear, and a fresh layer of skin forms. This can take weeks.
Because the condition can be transmitted person-to-person and cause severe disease, there was initially a great deal of concern about the Mpox outbreak. However, the risk to the general population was determined to be low.
The peak daily case count for Mpox reached 633 on August 1, but it has steadily declined since then – with just five cases reported on December 21. Through that same date, the CDC reported total U.S. cases for Mpox are around 30,000 for the year, with 20 U.S. deaths in 2022. Globally, also through December 21, total cases are 83,424.
Despite more than 90% of U.S. residents having some sort of health insurance, medical debt continues to be a persistent issue. Based on a March 2022 report by the Peterson Center on Health Care and the Kaiser Family Foundation, in their analysis of data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), 23 million people have significant medical debt. That amounts to nearly one in 10 adults. Six percent of adults – approximately 16 million people – owe more than $1,000 in medical debt. About 11 million owe more than $2,000. Another three million owe between $5,001 and $10,000. An additional one percent – three million people – owe more than $10,000 in medical debt.
Peterson-KFF says that medical debt is a struggle even for families and individuals with health insurance. Middle-income households still face a financial burden caused by high cost-sharing amounts and rising costs for medical services and prescription drugs.
Separate reporting by Kaiser Health News’s Noam Levey says more than 100 million Americans have health-care debt.
Online Pharmacy Launch by Mark Cuban
Exorbitant drug prices are a key reason Americans sometimes delay or skip filling their prescriptions. A 2022 poll by KFF found eight in 10 U.S. adults believe the cost of prescription drugs is “unreasonable.” That criticism is understandable when consumers hear stories about huge price hikes, especially on medications that have been around for a long time. You may recall the so-called “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli, who as head of Turing Pharmaceuticals in 2015 raised the price of a generic drug from around $13.50 to $750.00 a pill.
Mark Cuban is said to have been inspired by the Shkreli incident to establish the Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company. It launched as part of a continuing effort to offer consumers better drug prices, with an initial inventory of 100 generic drugs.
Reporting in December 2022 by NBC quoted Cuban as planning to expand to insulin. “It may be a month, it may six months, it may be two years,” the entrepreneur said. If added, the diabetes medication would join what is now a list of about 350 generic medications offered.
The Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company has attracted nearly 1.5 million customers. In December, it announced an expansion into the self-insured marketplace. Cuban’s firm is partnering with the pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) EmsanaRx to give employers and employees a new way to save on medicines. More partnerships are anticipated in 2023.
Amazon Exiting – and Growing – Its Health Care Business
Fierce Healthcare reported in July that Amazon was acquiring One Medical, a membership-based primary care medical group operating in more than 25 markets. Those include the San Francisco Bay Area (where the firm launched 15 years ago), Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego in California.
Oregon’s health agency approved the One Medical sale in December. The Federal Trade Commission is investigating the proposed deal. Amazon is positioning One Medical as offering members a dedicated relationship with providers – both through a friendly, convenient, in-office experience and ongoing engagement through a dedicated app.
In contradicting news, Amazon announced plans to close Amazon Care by the end of 2022. Amazon Care launched in 2019 as a service for Amazon employees and their families in the Seattle area. It expanded to offer telehealth services nationwide – and in-person care in seven cities; however, it struggled to attract broader employer participation.
Amazon is, no doubt, expecting greater success with its new Amazon Clinic. The tech and e-commerce leader announced in November plans to operate in 32 states. It will provide virtual care for more than 20 common health conditions – including, according to its statement, allergies, acne, and hair loss. The company acknowledges that virtual care is not right for every medical problem. It will advise potential patients, up front before the provider referral.
Amazon Clinic does not yet accept insurance, although that is expected to change in the future. Right now, prescribed medications can be filled through any pharmacy, including Amazon’s own full-service online pharmacy, which does accept insurance.
Average Premium for Group Health
In its 24th Employer Health Benefits Survey, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found the average annual premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance in 2022 were $7,911 for single coverage and $22,463 for family coverage. Forecasts for 2023 are increases in the range of five to eight percent.
Stay Informed in 2023
Year-end roundup articles are always a challenge. You may think we missed a big story from the year. We cannot write them all. But we do try to provide a good overview of what’s happening in the insurance and health care world.
Word & Brown will continue to report on industry-related news and what you can expect in 2023. We encourage you to stay informed by regularly visiting our Newsroom and signing up for our J&R Report e-newsletter, which is distributed weekly to California brokers and twice monthly to Nevada brokers.