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Doctors say pharmaceutical firms are top cause of high medical costs

A full 87 percent of those surveyed listed pharmaceutical and biotech companies as having the biggest impact on the cost of healthcare.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

When it comes to high healthcare costs, most physicians claim they are not the ones to blame and instead pinpoint pharmaceutical and insurance companies, according to a new survey from University of Utah Health.

U of U Health surveyed members of the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst Insights Council, who are clinicians, clinical leaders and executives involved with healthcare delivery. The survey found that most of the 571 respondents (72 percent of whom are physicians) overwhelmingly believe pharmaceutical firms, followed closely by insurance companies, hospitals and health systems, have the biggest impact on costs.

A full 87 percent of those surveyed listed pharmaceutical and biotech companies as having the biggest impact on the cost of healthcare, followed by health plans, HMOs and insurers at 81 percent, and hospitals, health systems and physician organizations at 75 percent. 

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Only 30 percent said that individual clinicians have a strong impact on the cost of healthcare. The respondents indicated patients have the least effect on cost.

On top of that, 73 percent of respondents said the out-of-pocket cost to the patient enters into their clinical decisions. But only 30 percent of physicians agree that they should be held accountable for the cost of care to a patient. 

"Physicians don't set up pricing for insurance and we can't determine the price of a drug or new technology," said Robert Glasgow, MD, a surgeon with University of Utah Health. "So it's easy to feel powerless when it comes to impacting costs."

Other findings revealed by the survey showed that 86 percent believe physicians are not adequately trained to even discuss the cost of care, and 64 percent say there is not enough time to discuss the cost of treatments with patients. And 90 percent believe healthcare costs are too confusing for patients, while 78 percent feel the necessary tools are not available for patients to estimate those costs.

The American Medical Association released data this spring showing that the major drivers of high healthcare costs in the U.S. appear to be higher prices for nearly everything -- from physician and hospital services to diagnostic tests to pharmaceuticals -- and administrative complexity. Per capita spending for pharmaceuticals was $1,443 in the U.S., compared with a range of $466 to $939 in other nations. For several commonly used brand-name pharmaceuticals, the U.S. had substantially higher prices than other countries, often double the next highest price.

Twitter: @JELagasse
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