About Aobo Dong

Aobo is a Student Fellow at Petrie-Flom. He is studying religion, ethics and politics at Harvard Divinity School and also a junior fellow at the Science, Religion, and Culture (SRC) program. His research interests involve the intersections between religion, sexuality, human rights, and health law.

The U.S. Drug Price Catastrophe and the Central Planner

By Aobo Dong

If you are fortunate enough to have an insurance plan with extensive coverage and low co-pays for prescription drugs, chances are you may not be overly concerned with the U.S. drug price catastrophe. For millions of Americans without such a plan, getting the much-needed prescribed medicine often involves frustrating multi-player exchanges between the pharmacy, the insurance company, and the doctor, due to complications such as drug pricing and pre-authorization.

The NYT recently launched an investigation into a simple question: “Why Are Drug Prices So High?” One surprising revelation from the study is that deep drug pricing problems may have been contributing to the ongoing opioid crisis, as insurers restrict patient access to less addictive alternatives. For instance, UnitedHealthcare stopped covering Butrans – a drug that had successfully helped Alisa Erkes to ease her excruciating abdominal pain for two years – just to lower its own expenses. Instead, Alisa’s doctor had to put her on long-acting morphine – a drug in a higher category for risk of abuse and dependence than Butrans. However, since it costs the insurance company only $29 a month, UnitedHealthcare covered it with no questions asked. Continue reading

Is Your Medical Bill “Eligible for Sharing?” New research on Christian Health Care Sharing Ministries (HCSMs)

By Aobo Dong

As the future of Affordable Care Act (ACA) hangs in the balance amid political deadlock in Washington, more Americans are signing up for Christian health care sharing ministries (HCSMs) – a growing alternative to traditional health insurance. Instead of paying a monthly premium to insurance companies, most members of HCSMs write monthly checks directly to other members in need. If you are on the receiving end, chances are you may be surprised with a wave of letters, flowers, and prayer cards wishing you well. However, not all medical bills are “eligible for sharing.” Most HCSMs exclude pre-existing conditions, as well as any conditions or medical expenses caused by “unbiblical lifestyle” involving using drugs/alcohol or having sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Also, if you are an adopted child with disabilities or an undocumented immigrant, some ministries explicitly exclude you from participating at all. Continue reading