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Workers’ comp drug trends – good news at last, Part 2

Workers’ comp pharmacy benefit management firms devote significant resources to research, much of which is published in their annual drug trend reports.  Today we focus on PMSI’s just-released report…

The big news – narcotic utilization in the first year of the claim was down 7 percent from 2010 to 2012.  There was an increase in NSAIDs, indicating physician prescribers were substituting NSAIDs for narcotics, a major step in the right direct.  For all claims, narcotic utilization declined 3.2%, an indication that there was less of a decrease among older claimants. Nonetheless, the top drug by spend continued to be Oxycodone at 9.1%

PMSI’s 2013 Annual Drug Trends Report covers three years of in-network transactions totaling just under $1 billion in spend spread over 5.7 million transactions.  Their researchers use cost per day and average days supply to level set for changes; for 2012, cost per day was up 2.8% while utilization declined 2.7% for essentially no change in cost year over year.  This was driven in part by converting more claimants from retail to mail order and associated 21% lower price per day supply. (mail order meds are a lot cheaper)

The report also cites the key role of generic conversion – PMSI clients’ cost for generics was 75% less than for brand ($2.83 v $11.09).  Overall, both generic efficiency and generic fill rates were up; however this varies by age of claim as rates decreased as claims age.

The report includes several excellent charts and maps detailing various regulatory and legislative issues – physician dispensing regs, repackaging reimbursement limits and the like.  There’s also an excellent graphic showing how carisoprodol dispensed by a physician can cost more than ten times the retail pharmacy’s cost ($138.60 v $11.03 – p 10)

One item of interest – the cost per physician-dispensed pill in HI was $4.71 v $1.68 for pharmacy in 2012…

Finally, the big PBM’s clients saw good results from their acetaminophen program as it cut number of claimants taking more than recommended dose by 40%.

Considering this report and Progressive Solutions’, it appears that PBMs have been able to make some progress in reducing the use of narcotics on new claims.  It may also be that physician prescribing patterns are changing; I’m looking into that through a couple of sources to see if we can discern any overall pattern.

More to come.



Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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