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Throwback Thursday: Health care news of 2016

Fate of Obamacare, medical marijuana and the opioid epidemic

The future of the nation’s health care law is in limbo as President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration nears, so it’s hard to predict what 2017 might bring.

But 2016 has certainly been a long year for the health care industry in terms of fine-tuning policies to meet the demands of the health care law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010.

Some health insurance companies left the Affordable Care Act marketplace due to significant financial losses, while others limited health plan options for individuals seeking coverage through the federal exchange.

Large employers were tasked with extensive reporting to prove compliance with the ACA, and increased tax penalties loom for employers offering overly generous health benefits.

Yet for the first time since the ACA was passed, federal regulators released hard numbers on its impact on the U.S. from a consumer standpoint. On paper it doesn’t look so bad – 6.1 million Pennsylvanians benefit from free preventive care under the ACA in both individual and group health plans, and health insurance companies have to cover men and women at the same cost as a result of the law.

Health care providers fear the impact of repealing the ACA, because it could result in declining patient volume – over the last six years, about 20 million people have gained access to health insurance through the ACA.

Pa. legalized medical marijuana in 2016

Aside from uncertainty surrounding the ACA, Pennsylvania saw big changes this year with the legalization of medical marijuana in April, a market that is expected to hit $74 million in sales during its first year and reach $724 million by 2020, according to data from Washington D.C.-based Frontier Financial Group Inc., which studies marijuana trends.

So far, progress continues at a fast pace as the Pennsylvania Department of Health develops the state program.

Medical marijuana organizations – growers and processors and dispensaries – are set to apply for licenses at the beginning of 2017. The department expects the program to be operational by 2018.

At the same time, state regulators are still dancing around what to do about the opioid pain pill and heroin epidemic, as overdose deaths continued to climb in 2016. This fall lawmakers passed several bills designed to slow the number of overdose deaths in the New Year.

Also this year, Pennsylvania activated its Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and allotted funds to increase the amount of opioid addiction treatment centers for the state’s Medicaid patients.

Merger meltdown of 2016

Here in the midstate, the health care industry made national headlines after an attempted merger between two of the largest health systems in the area failed. The case first made headlines in 2015, and much of the year was spent watching the battle unfold in court.

Derry Township-based Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Harrisburg-based PinnacleHealth System, after a lengthy court battle with the Federal Trade Commission, abandoned their attempt to merge. Since then, Hershey Medical Center’s CEO R. Craig Hillemeier highlighted where he sees the health system going from here.

Regardless of what happens next with the two Dauphin County health systems – something to watch in 2017 – the antitrust opinions formed during the merger case will likely set precedent across the U.S. for potential health care mergers going forward.

Most read health care stories for 2016:

1. Lancaster County hospital CEO resigns

2. World’s largest dental plan goes to Harrisburg-based company

3. Senate weighs options on medical marijuana legislation

4. Medical marijuana law: what businesses need to know

5. High-tech health care facility planned for Lancaster County

6. LGH launches health plan for Lancaster County businesses

7. Memorial Hospital construction slated for March

8. Pa. advocates launch hemp, medical marijuana businesses

Lenay Ruhl

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