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Friday catch up

Made it home from warm and sunny Baton Rouge yesterday just in time to escape the travel disaster unfolding across the east coast.  Hope you and yours are warm and snug and home.

The big news-that-wasn’t was the completion of the acquisition of work comp PBM and specialty services firm Helios by OptumRx, United Healthcare’s PBM and ancillary business entity.  If you were looking for an announcement, there wasn’t one.  Although the deal was likely in the $1.5 billion range, Optum alone generated $67 billion in revenue last year, while the entire company totaled $157 billion in sales. Helios might be a blockbuster deal for work comp folks; it is not for United.

I was honored to speak at the Louisiana Workers’ Comp conference earlier this week, focusing on formularies and other tools payers use to ensure patients get the right drugs and don’t get the wrong drugs.  The audience was engaged, very knowledgeable, and had lots to say.  Good people looking to do the right thing despite what can be a very challenging environment.

Health care evolution

The canary-in-the-coal-mine that is California provides more insight into what will happen in your market – rapid and deep consolidation of health care providers into vertically-integrated delivery systems.  One market – the greater San Francisco Bay area – provides a view into the future for others.

This is especially important because these huge provider networks are critical to health care delivery, financing, access and cost and quality improvement.  Which raises the question – are they getting so big they are “too big to fail?”

Not surprisingly, a conservative view is the government is behind this, and the risk is high. The logic of that argument, while superficially valid, fails in the face of understanding.  What the author fails to note is the Co-Ops were established precisely to foster competition in a market dominated by hundred-billion dollar plus organizations.  More importantly, market consolidation has been going on for years – and while the ACA has likely sped up the process, this is an inevitable result of a maturing market.  This isn’t a government thing, this is a business thing.

Of course, if Sen Rubio et al hadn’t strangled the Co-Ops by cutting off their risk payments, there would be more competition…


Interesting research published by the Pharmacy Benefit Management Institute, detailing the state of the PBM world over the last couple of years.  Not only does it have a cool picture of a women’s eight at the catch (that’s rowing talk), the pub has a wealth of information on what’s happening in the real world of pharmacy management. A few highlights:

  • driven by a near-20 percent jump in specialty med costs, overall trend was up over 10 percent.
  • most of the cost control efforts appear to be financial, with more payers adopting multi-level tiers for copays and the expansion of deductibles and other cost-sharing approaches.
  • the top goal across all respondents was managing the cost of specialty meds.
  • “The generic dispensing rate at retail pharmacies in 2002 was only 40%; today it is 78%”

Costs are going up at double digit rates despite more aggressive cost-sharing and a doubling of generic dispensing.

Work comp

NCCI is working on research aimed at tracking potential impacts of ACA on work ; their work includes monitoring time-to-treatment for comp claimants.  Kudos to Barry Lipton et al for this needed research.

Back at it next week – hope your team wins this weekend!

3 thoughts on “Friday catch up”

  1. Great Job yesterday Joe! Timely information for what’s happening in LA and delivered in a concise and understandable format. the sobering statistics on opioids hopefully will wake up people in LA and all over the country. thanks again

    Troy P

    1. Thank Troy – great to see you and meet your colleagues in Louisiana. best of luck with the new regime in Bayou Country.

  2. I was surprised the lack of interest or flag waving over the Helios Acquisition. Perhaps we have gotten used to all the consolidation? Or perhaps keeping under the radar so not to upset client base?

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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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