Dec
16

Friday catch-up

Lots happened this week while I was hunting, driving, and finishing up the annual survey of pharmacy management in work comp.

A quick update on pharmacy data points…

  • across the 30 respondents we have so far (a few more to come), drug spend was down one percent...however
  • there’s a ton of variation between respondents with some seeing big jumps and others steep drops in spend.
  • 91% of all scripts are generic…that’s a big increase from a few years back
  • pharmacy is viewed as being just a bit more important than other medical categories such as facilities, surgery, E&M.
  • and opioid spend is down again (YAY!!)

From HBR comes this trenchant observationIn Supplier Negotiations, Lying Is Contagious

“Lying once can be contagious. It can pave the way for lying again in other interactions or negotiations with people at other companies.”

The brief article is intended to provide guidance to buyers, but sellers would do well to internalize the researchers’ observations.

Health spending in the US is almost twice (as a percentage of GDP) as high as other developed countries’.

The graph is here if the pic above is hard to read.

Which means far fewer dollars to spend on wages, R&D, IT investment, and stock dividends – and much higher taxes to pay for civil servants’ health benefits.

Oh, and costs zoomed up in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID…due in large part to staffing shortages and concomitant labor costs.

What does this mean for you?

Next time someone starts comparing US healthcare to those with national systems, ask them if they have any idea how much more money we spend than those “socialists” do.


Nov
30

The state of work comp pharmacy

is pretty good.

Here are the very preliminary takeaways from the latest Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Workers’ Comp...so far 21 phone interviews completed and several more still to go.

[if you’re new to MCM, we’ve done an annual Survey since 2004, past public reports are here (respondents get a much more detailed version)]

  • Drug spend continues to decline, although at first blush it looks like the drop is less than we’ve seen in recent years
  • Opioid spend is also continuing its downward trend
  • Generic efficiency – the percentage of scripts that could be filled with generics that are filled with generics – is just shy of 100%
  • Payers are still struggling with legacy opioid patients with respondents identifying patient resistance (mostly fear driven), recalcitrant prescribers, attorneys and the lack of regulatory/legislative support as key obstacles
  • Physician dispensing is once again rearing its ugly/profiteering/self-serving/taxpayer-abusing head.
  • Payers want more transparency while fully understanding PBMs need to make a profit.
  • Topicals seem to be the latest in the scam-a-rama that is the physician dispensing industry.
  • Respondents are generally very open to non-pharmaceutical approaches to pain management – much more on this in a future post.

What does this mean for you?

PBMs and payers  – well done. Your work has saved countless lives while helping countless others regain control of theirs.

 


Nov
22

Work comp pharmacy…

has changed dramatically in the last 18 years.

Costs are much lower, brand drug usage has fallen off a cliff, PBMs are by far the dominant delivery channel, and there aren’t any real problems these days/

At least that’s what I’ve gleaned from doing 15 surveys of work comp execs on their perspectives and quantitative measures related to pharmacy.

Way back when:

Expect we’ll have the latest version of our annual survey in late January; in the meantime (and VERY preliminary:

  • generic fill rates are around 90%
  • generic efficiency is north of 98%
  • inflation trends appear to be negative – for about the 7th straight year.

Yet payers are still concerned about drugs, mostly because they are seen as major contributors to disability duration and recovery.

What does this mean for you?

Its not just the cost – it’s the knock-on effects. 


Nov
4

19 years ago

I wrote my first post on opioids and workers’ comp. Almost two decades later, the post – which was really an excerpt from a Workers’ Comp Insider blog post – is terrifyingly prescient.

Interesting item from Workers Comp Insider today:
There is an interesting convergence of issues concerning the pain killer, Oxycontin. Originally developed to combat cancer pain, Oxycontin has been aggressively marketed over the past three years by its manufacturer Purdue, to the point where the drug is now the pain-killer of preference for work related injuries. This drug is twice as powerful as morphine and, while not technically addicting, it can create withdrawal symptoms when a person stops taking it. According to a study by NCCI, Oxycontin is prescribed for pain in 69% of permanent partial disability cases. This same study also points out that 49% of these prescriptions go to people with back injuries. When you combine that with the next interesting piece of data – Oxycontin is almost always dispensed in 50 day supplies (100 tablets) — you have a potentially volatile mix.

Kudos to Tom Lynch and Julie Ferguson for their early warning.

Dr Steve Feinberg sent me a note re the CDC’s just-released update to opioid guidelines; there’s a lot to unpack here. A couple of key takeaways.

  • the guidelines were just that – guidelines. In far too many instances they were used to define hard limits, which was wildly inappropriate and completely inconsistent with CDC’s guidance.
  • this from Christopher Jones, acting head of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and a co-author of the updated guidelines:
    • “The guideline recommendations are voluntary and meant to guide shared decision-making between a clinician and patient…It’s not meant to be implemented as absolute limits of policy or practice by clinicians, health systems, insurance companies, governmental entities.”

What does this mean for you?

Pay attention to early warning signs and don’t over-react.


Oct
6

Work comp drug spend – profiteering rampant in LA FL and PA

WCRI’s webinar on interstate variations in drug payments reminds us that lax regulations and absent legislators cost taxpayers and employers millions.

Slides are here – and are free to access. The report itself is here – available free to members and a nominal fee for non-members.

There’s a ten-fold variation across the 28 states studied by WCRI, with WI MN and MA around $22 in quarterly drug spend per claim, but LA and FL right around $200. A far higher percentage of claimants get scripts in the two high-spend states than in those on the lower end – and I’ll bet most of those are from dispensing physicians and attorney-represented workers using mail-order pharmacies.

WCRI looked at data from non-COVID claims less than 3 years old in 28 states from Q1 2018 to Q1 2021.

Top takeaway – overall quarterly drug payments dropped from $102 in Q1 2015 to $68 in Q1 2021 – but PA FL and CT – states with physician dispensing and/or mail order pharmacy problems – actually saw an increase – and that increase was largely driven by dermatological agents.

Want more evidence of the rampant profiteering enabled by lax regulations and compromised legislators?

  • Dermatological payments account for about 20% of payments in the median state – although there’s a wide variation, from 6% in the lowest state to over half (52%) of payments in the highest state.
  • These dermatological agents are almost always combos of lidocaine, menthol, diclofenac sodium and other generics – profiteers mix ’em up and bill at a huge markup.
  • PA is especially egregious – the vast majority of these dermatologicals are pharmacy-dispensed, and the average price paid was over $300.
  • Physician dispensed drugs accounted for more than half of drug costs in several states including Florida
  • It’s not just dermatologicals…California saw a big jump in NSAIDS driven by fenoprofen and ketoprofen…both questionable medications that have become darlings of the physician dispensing/mail order profiteers.

There’s good news too…after dermos, NSAIDs have the next highest payment across all drug groups at 18%…while opioids account for about 7% in the median states – way down from 13% in the same quarter three years ago.

I’d note that this is for claims <3 years old, and likely reflects the successful effort to avoid prescribing opioids to patients better served by other therapies.

What does this mean for you?

PA FL LA and CT  – stop screwing employers and taxpayers.

 

 


Sep
26

Watch out for gabapentin…

The CDC recently reported gabapentin was involved in one out of every ten fatal overdose deaths in reporting states.

Similar to opioids, gabapentin can cause severe breathing difficulties  – which are exacerbated when the drug is combined with other central nervous system depressants (CNS) (e.g. opioids, antidepressants, antianxiety meds).

Illicit use of gabapentin appears to be on the rise…from JAMA:

Gabapentin can produce feelings of euphoria and intoxication and can potentiate opioids’ effects. Individuals who misused the drug reported multiple reasons in a 2019 study, including a desire to enhance the effects of opioids; to achieve a “high” when preferred substances were unavailable, such as when they were living in a treatment facility or were incarcerated; or to self-treat withdrawal or pain. [emphasis added]

Gabapentin is a non-scheduled drug which became much more widely prescribed as opioid scripts declined.  Back in 2018 one out of five chronic pain patients were prescribed gabapentin (or its cousin, pregabalin). There’s some evidence that misuse of gabapentin – which is almost always prescribed off-label – often occurs after the consumer had a prescription for the drug.

And, Parke-Davis, manufacturer of Neurontin – the brand name version of gabapentin – pleaded guilty to promoting off-label use and paid a $430 million fine.

So, what to do?

First – learn more.  Start here – myMatrixx’ Shanea McKinney, PharmD penned an excellent overview way back in 2019.

Then…

  • Dig into your data – what’s been happening with gabapentin?
  • When and where possible, require prior authorization for gabapentin and similar drugs.
  • Educate patients and caregivers about potential risks of the drug.
  • Pay special attention to patients prescribed gabapentin off-label and in combination of other CNS depressants.
  • Consider recommending urine drug testing for gabapentin patients and include it in  the drug test panel.

What does this mean for you?

This looks awfully familiar. 

 


Sep
9

If only Florida was like California

If only Florida (‘s commitment to patient safety and responsible prescribing and good workers’ comp medical care) was like California.

But…no.

The Sunshine State’s work comp regulators and legislators don’t seem to care about patient safety or employer/taxpayer costs – at least not when it comes to drugs.

 

If they did, payers wouldn’t have to:

  • pay an upcharge for physician-dispensed drugs,
  • argue that physicians aren’t pharmacists (yes, really),
  • argue that drugs dispensed by physicians should be evaluated for patient safety

Kudos to myMatrixx for weighing in on this and attempting to get insurers and employers involved. Alas if history is any indication, the vast majority of insurers won’t.

Neither will most employers.

I get workers’ comp premiums will continue to decline, leaving fewer and fewer dollars for administrative tasks, like, you know, government affairs.

I get workers’ comp is hugely profitable.

I also get that this will change – and when it does those insurers will be looking for nickels in the couch cushions – nickels (and dimes and dollars) they ignored when things were going great.

Right now, payers and employers need to weigh in and tell Florida regulators that Physicians are NOT pharmacies – and therefore patients don’t get to pick a physician to be their pharmacy.

This is a major patient safety issue; physician-dispensed drugs aren’t subject to many of the electronic edits that pharmacy-dispensed drugs are.

So, physicians are almost certainly giving patients drugs that:

  • duplicate patients’ other scripts
  • conflict with patients’ other scripts
  • aren’t appropriate for that patient.

What does this mean for you.

Fight your own battles. I’m not going to do it for you.

From a post way back in 2014…

There is NO reason, no rationale, no logic behind docs dispensing drugs to workers comp claimants.  

Proponents claim it is better care, leading to speedier recovery and lower costs.

We long suspected the opposite is true; that is, claimants getting drugs from docs get more treatment, incur higher medical costs, are out of work longer and run up bigger claim costs than claimants with the exact same injury who don’t get pills from their physicians.

Thanks to CWCI, we know that’s the real impact of doc dispensing.

Now, we know even more – we know that dispensing docs prescribe more opioids for longer times, thereby increasing the risk of addiction and drug diversion and overdoses and death.  Thanks to a research paper authored by Johns Hopkins University Medical School and Accident Fund, there’s clear and convincing proof that doc dispensing is a highly risky, very dangerous, and very expensive proposition.

Here is the money quote:

“we found 39% higher medical costs, 27% higher indemnity costs, and 34% higher frequency of lost-time days associated with physician-dispensed versus pharmacy-dispensed medication. We found even more striking differences related to physician-dispensed opioids versus pharmacy dispensed opioids. The effect was nearly doubled and revealed 78% higher medical costs, 57% higher indemnity costs, and 85% higher frequency of lost-time days associated with physician-dispensed versus pharmacy-dispensed medication. [emphasis added]


Sep
7

Work Comp Pharmacy Week – #2

Yesterday we kicked off Workers’ comp pharmacy week with a quick review of WCRI’s latest research.

Today we’ll focus on our annual Survey of Pharmacy Benefit Management in Workers’ Compensation. We’ve been doing this for (gulp!) 19 years, and I’m (belatedly) ready to begin the 2022 Survey. Past public versions of the Survey are available here; there’s no cost and no registration necessary.

Respondents receive a more detailed version to reflect their contribution to the effort.

Top takeaways from last year’s report included:

  • Total work comp drug spend for 2020 was about $3 billion, or about 10% of total medical spend.
    • The percentage decrease from 2019 to 2020 was 12.3%
  • That’s down from $4.8 billion a decade ago.
  • Opioid spend declined 19.3% from 2019 to 2020; Opioids accounted for 17% of total drug spend across all respondents.
  • Pharmacy management remains important despite these decreases, primarily due to respondents’ view that drugs have a disproportionate influence on claim outcomes and disability duration.

Over the next few days we’ll be reaching out to past participants; if you are a payer and would like to participate in the Survey (and get the detailed report) please leave a comment below with your contact information (it won’t be published).

All responses are confidential, are only used in the aggregate or are de-identified to protect confidentiality.

 


Sep
6

Work comp pharmacy week!

There’s been a lot of news around work comp pharmacy of late – time to dive into what’s happening, why, and the implications thereof.

No better place to start than WCRI’s just-published study on the latest in drug trends across 28 states. (register here for the no-cost webinar – September 29 at 2 pm eastern). The research looked at trends over the three years from Q1 2018 to Q1 2021 (kudos to WCRI for getting this very recent info out quickly)

Key takeaways from Dongchun Wang, Vennela Thumula, Te-Chun Liu’s research include:

  • Rx payments (all figures are per claim) dropped 15% or more in almost 2/3rds of the 28 states..but went UP in:
    • Connecticut (+22%), Florida (+17%), and Pennsylvania (+14%)(hmmmmm…)
    • notably a major driver of the increase in those states was dermatological agents…driven by physician dispensing and/or mail order pharmacy dispensed drugs in those three states (and others)
  • COVID is a non-factor; COVID claims account for <2% of total Rx costs in most states
  • Other good news – opioids continued to decline in all 28 states – A LOT. As in a decrease of 56% in the median state
  • The biggest drop in spend occurred in New York – a 43% decrease driven by the adoption of a formulary in early 2020.
  • The range in spend is really striking; as of Q1 2021, the lowest state spend for claims with any medical spend was $22 (MA, MN, WI); the highest was almost 10 times higher in – you guessed it – Florida at $201.

So…takeaways

  • States that enable/allow/don’t prevent abusive prescribing and dispensing – looking at you, Connecticut, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina – and others – are allowing grifters and thieves to steal money from employers and taxpayers while over-treating patients. 
  • Lotions aka dermatological agents are almost entirely a (pick your term) enabled and perpetrated by physician dispensers and some mail order pharmacies…and the lack of aggressive and useful action by employers and insurers and their lobbyists.

Forecast

Insurers and employers and taxpayers in those states are going to get hammered by these bad actors. Costs for dermatological agents rose more than 50% in PA, CT, SC, FL, GA, VA, NC and MI.

Given the lack of an effective response by payers, their lobbyists and government affairs entities, you can expect more of the same.

What does this mean for you?

  1. Great work on the opioid front – although just slashing opioids is not THE solution to pain – this requires a multi-pronged approach.
  2. re dermatological agents – Do you like getting screwed by profiteers?

Aug
8

The Inflation Reduction Act’s biggest loser

For the first time in about forever, big pharma lost.

One can’t overstate the impact of the-about-to-become-law Inflation Reduction Act on pharma. The most powerful lobbying force in Washington got steamrolled – with one major exception.

Medicare will now be able to negotiate drug prices, a change that will lead to massive savings for seniors (a group I will join next year) and taxpayers alike. This didn’t come without a last-ditch effort by a horde of suits invading the Senate and House…but for once, the invasion was turned back.

Medicare part D was a huge taxpayer gift to big pharma as it covered seniors’ drugs while not allowing Medicare to negotiate prices. This was a giant boondoggle; Christmas, birthdays, anniversary and graduation presents all rolled into one 20 year giveaway. (historians will note this was entirely driven by Republicans – and added $9.4 trillion to the ultimate Federal deficit)

Imagine if you could a) add a huge new market for your services/products and b) set your own prices…why…you could buy that baseball team you always wanted!

Well, at least the insulin manufacturers won. Republican senators blocked a provision which would have capped diabetics’ monthly insulin costs at $35. 

1 out of 7 Americans that need insulin spend more than 40% of their income after food and housing on the drug.

What does this mean for you?

Just when you thought Washington couldn’t do anything – it does something really big and really important.