Health Care Checkup: Exchange opens, Berkshire buys into Express Scripts

The Health Care Checkup is a weekly rundown of the state’s top health care headlines.


Warren Buffett | Courtesy of trackrecord/Flickr
Warren Buffett | Courtesy of trackrecord/Flickr

Checking the Pulse

Open enrollment in health insurance exchange begins

After months of buildup and testing, open enrollment in the federal health insurance exchange began Saturday with all reports suggesting signups in Missouri went smoothly. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 23,000 people signed up for insurance for 2015 in the first eight hours alone. Many in the state logged onto healthcare.gov to find higher insurance rates compared to 2014 registration; Blue Cross Blue Shield customers, for example, saw premiums jump 9.9 percent over the previous year. For those struggling to navigate the system or seeking the best deal, H&R Block teamed up with GoHealth to give customers assistance.

Although open enrollment weekend was mostly a success, not all the news was rosy for government health care. First, one of the key aspects of the 2015 rollout, the small business exchange known as the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), is currently far below its registration targets. Also, following in the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case earlier this year, a district judge ruled in favor of two Kansas City-area companies claiming they did not have to provide their employees with contraception as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Berkshire Hathaway buys into Express Scripts

Express Scripts’ recent upswing apparently caught the eye of Berkshire Hathaway, the investment company founded and led by Warren Buffett. Berkshire purchased Express Scripts shares worth approximately $35 million in the third quarter, which was part of a larger reshuffling of Buffett’s firm’s holdings.

FDA reclassifies Mallinckrodt’s ADHD drug

Mallinckrodt’s share price dropped more than 6 percent last week following news the Food and Drug Administration had reclassified the company’s generic drug for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to the FDA, Mallinckrodt’s drug, methylphenidate ER, “may not be therapeutically equivalent” to Concerta, the brand-name drug it was designed to emulate. Although that reportedly poses no health risks to patients taking the drug, it poses a significant problem for Mallinckrodt, as methylphenidate ER now cannot be given as a more affordable alternative by pharmacists. The company says it is exploring all of its options in getting the FDA to reconsider, including possible legal action.

Number of the Week I: $500,075

Number by which the United Way of Greater St. Louis exceeded its 2014 fundraising goals. The total raised this year was $73,000,075, up almost a million from last year’s total. The organization will use the money to support more than 170 health and human service groups in its coverage region.

Number of the Week II: 9,350

The percentage increase in the cost of doxycycline hyclate, a generic antibiotic frequently used in hospitals, from fall of 2013 to today, according to a recent Congressional committee report. The drug currently costs $1,849 per bottle compared to $20 a year ago. Dramatic spikes in generic drug costs are putting enormous pressure on hospitals and pharmacies in Missouri, sometimes with little or no ability to pass the cost on to customers to offset the financial hit.

Tweet of the Week

The new facility, know as Mercy Kids Mid Rivers, opened Monday offering gastroenterology, neurology, sports medicine, psychiatry and rehabilitation services for young patients. It’s scheduled to be followed in January with an outpatient clinic for people up to age 21.


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