What We're Reading: Medicare Advantage Enrollment Up 50% Against Expectations

What we're reading, February 15, 2016: despite cuts to the program, enrollment in Medicare Advantage is up 50% over 5 years; orphan drug designations from the FDA up 22% in 2015; and Zika virus infections on the rise in Puerto Rico.

Despite payment cuts to Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, enrollment has increased by more than 50% over the last 5 years. Initially, the Congressional Budget Office had predicted that cuts to MA plans, which were used to help offset the Affordable Care Act, would cause enrollment to fall 30%, reported The New York Times. Instead, nearly one-third of Medicare beneficiaries have chosen MA plans over the traditional fee-for-service program. While UnitedHealth, and other plans, are struggling to find financial success in the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, it has reported strong growth in MA.

In 2015, the FDA increased its orphan drug designations by 22%. From the 472 requests for orphan drug designation, FDA awarded the designation to 354 medicines. According to STAT, the increase is a combination of the FDA facing more pressure to approve these medicines for rare diseases, payers willing to absorb high prices, and drug makers benefitting from 7 years of marketing exclusivity. However, the increase in requests may be straining the FDA’s resources and researchers are arguing drug makers are exploiting loopholes.

There has been a sharp increase in Zika virus infections in Puerto Rico, according to the CDC. The nearly 30 cases confirmed at the end of January included a pregnant women and a patient hospitalized with a potentially paralyzing condition that can sometimes follow Zika infection, reported The Washington Post. However, as of yet, Puerto Rico has not reported any cases of microcephaly as a result of Zika, but public health officials expect there to be more cases over the next weeks and months.