Work comp drug trends; Coventry’s report

Coventry’s work comp PBM – First Script – released their drug trend review last week; they’ve taken a bit of a different tack than other PBMs, choosing to report broadly across all scripts while differentiating between “managed” (in-network retail/mail and contracted physician and clinic dispensed) and unmanaged scripts.  Note that Coventry reports on compounds separately.

The report is replete with infographics used to highlight cost trends, workflows and decision processes, charts and graphs which make it quite readable; specific data points and issues are easily located and understood.  Overall, the report is well laid-out and professionally done; as with other recent efforts (including CompPharma’s most recent PBM in WC Survey) drug trend reports have benefited greatly from the expertise of graphic designers.

Physician- and clinic-dispensed medications accounted for 5.1% of spend; retail/mail for about 69% of spend. Opioid dollars totaled about a third of total managed drug dollars.

Key cost drivers include an AWP increase of almost 10% across all drugs. That price increase was somewhat offset by a 5 percent decrease in utilization (7.4% for narcotics) which resulted in an overall cost-per-claim increase of 7.3%.

A key finding is a major increase in generic utilization and spending (mirrored by CompPharma’s soon-to-be-released 2015 report).  Generic spend was up a whopping 19.3% while single source brand spend dropped by 9%; generic forms of Cymbalta and Lidoderm helped drive generic utilization up over 5 percent.

Coventry reported a 4.1% decrease in short-acting (SA) narcotic script volume; long-acting dropped by 3.2%. Vicodin, the #1 prescribed drug, saw utilization drop almost 8%. Unfortunately higher AWP pricing for several common SA narcotics more than offset that decrease in units, driving overall SA narcotic spend up 8 points.

There are helpful statistics on utilization by drug class by age of claim; changes in specific drug spend and utilization year over year, details on what drugs saw the biggest changes in volume and price, charts illustrating various correlations between claim age and pharmacy, and details on compound utilization.

Notably, Terocin(c), a compound, accounts for more unmanaged spend than any other drug; the growth in all topical medications is quite remarkable. In total, compounds accounted for 7.7% of managed spend and 28.1% of unmanaged spend.

Coventry’s report is data-rich, and this is particularly illuminating in their in-depth analysis of compounds.  Trends in utilization and spend by state, claimant usage, and in-network v out-of-network are analyzed in depth.

What does this mean for you?

Compounds are growing rapidly, efforts to control narcotic utilization are bearing fruit, and generic price inflation remains problematic.

WC Rx Survey – early results are in…

We’ve finished collecting the data for CompPharma’s 12th (!) Annual Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Workers’ Comp;  working on compiling and analyzing the data now and expect to get the report out next week.

The survey uses both quantitative and qualitative questions; this enables us to track changes over time to key metrics including network penetration, mail order usage, generic efficiency, and compound drug growth.

The qualitative responses are really helpful in gaining an understanding of what’s keeping payers up at night, where they are seeing success, and how they view key issues.

Here are a few initial findings…

  • Drug management is viewed as more or much more important than other medical issues by 80% of respondents
  • 75% said drug costs will become more important over the next year
  • 2/3rds indicated compounds are the most concerning new issue in WC pharmacy

There’s a lot more analysis to be done as we dig into the qualitative responses. One key area will be the cost and quality control programs payers have implemented over the last 18 months and the results of those programs.

Once the final report is done and proofed, I’ll put up a link.

Public versions of the previous surveys are available free for download (no registration required) here.

 

Work comp pharmacy – it’s getting complicated

That’s the one-word takeaway from a read of Healthcare Solutions latest Drug Trends report.

A decade ago work comp pharmacy was driven overwhelmingly by utilization; ever-increasing volumes of pills prescribed and dispensed to claimants was the primary cost driver.

Now, price and drug mix have become the main concern.

Healthcare Solutions reported drug price inflation rate exceeded 8.6%; 12.4% for brands and 7.9% for generics. Overall, drug costs were up about 4%, indicating efforts to control the type and volume of drugs counterbalanced a good chunk of the industry’s price increase.

In particular, utilization decreased by 3.1%, a result that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

In part that was driven by a 1.4% drop in utilization of opioids, led in turn by a 2.1% decrease in usage of hydrocodone/acetaminophen, the most commonly-used opioid.

For those not steeped in the details of drug pricing and work comp, it’s important to understand that what work comp pays is based in large part on prices set by drug manufacturers; these manufacturers do NOT have prices specific to workers’ comp. Essentially all states with fee schedules for work comp drugs base those fee schedules on AWP (which is set by the manufacturer). And, PBMs’ contracts with pharmacies are based to a large extent on AWP; MAC (maximum allowable cost) is also used extensively for some generics)

A great example of price’s impact is the recent introduction of several wildly expensive Hepatitis C drugs; according to HCS, these drugs, “while not common in workers’ compensation, can be significant to a client’s overall drug spend if they do have a claim.  This is especially troublesome for healthcare clients [e.g. hospitals, emergency services].  Treatment can be upwards of $100,000.”

Another notable cost driver was the higher volume and prices for compound drugs; this is consistent with other payers’ experience.

I’d note that Healthcare Solutions’ clinical programs are quite good; I’ve audited those programs twice in the last few years and both the programs and results are excellent.

What does this mean for you?

Managing drug usage requires a lot more expertise, analysis, and intelligence than it used to.  It also requires payors listen to and work closely with their PBM.

The poster children of OxyContin

Back at the end of the last century, a wonder drug was introduced that promised to end pain without risk of nasty side effects.  The drug, OxyContin, was aggressively marketed by manufacturer Purdue Pharma; they even made a video featuring seven users who lauded OxyContin.

Fast forward just fourteen years. The video has disappeared. Two of the seven are dead; they were abusing opioids when they died. Another was also addicted, but overcame her addiction. Three still believe the drug helped them and one wouldn’t respond to questions posed by a reporter looking to find out the fate of the seven.

The story of the seven was reported by the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal; their story was also documented in a video.

It’s a short and utterly devastating piece.

In the original Purdue OxyContin marketing video, a paid physician claimed the drug resulted in addiction in less than 1 percent of cases.  Later, he acknowledged that his statement wasn’t based on any long-term studies.  And that’s just one of the litany of errors, misstatements, exaggerations, and outright falsehoods.

The best evidence we have now indicates from 3% to 40% of long term users are at high risk for addiction.

OxyContin and other Schedule II drugs do have their place.  They have helped many deal with acute pain.  They have also directly caused today’s opioid crisis and the explosive growth in heroin use.

Purdue’s quarterly revenues for OxyContin are about the same as the one-time fine they paid to settle a federal criminal case; with total revenues for the drug in excess of $7 billion, there’s no question it has been hugely profitable for Purdue and its shareholders. 

What does this mean for you?

There’s a rather uncomfortable question lurking here.  The American health care system is in large part driven by profit-making entities.

One can make a compelling case that the opioid crisis is directly related to the profit motive.  Yes, our convoluted regulatory process is involved, as is the tortuous legal process, and lobbying and politics.  But all these are intended to regulate, control, ensure safety and good corporate citizenship.

In this instance, our controls have failed, and failed miserably.

Thanks to Phil Walls of myMatrixx for the heads up on this; his post can be found here.

 

 

Off to the Rx Drug Abuse Summit

The penultimate conference of the “spring” starts today in Atlanta, where the third annual Rx Drug Abuse Summit convenes this afternoon.

Specific to workers’ comp is the third party payer track; great discussions of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, the impact of opioids on worker’s compensation, legislative trends, and identifying high-risk claimants.

Thanks to Millennium Health for their lead sponsorship of the Summit; Millennium has been a consulting client for three years and I’m proud to work with them; they are good people looking to do drug testing the right way.

For those looking for additional education, can’t do better than Washington State L&I’s one-day educational conference on Evidence-Based Pain Care.  The sessions will review the new Agency Directors’ guidelines on Prescribing Opioids for Pain. Fifty bucks gets you educational credits, parking, breakfast and lunch…

Updates coming from the Rx Drug Abuse Summit from your loyal reporter…

Work comp drug trends

Helios has just released their drug trend report covering spend, trends, and influencers for 2013 and 2014.  As the largest – and oldest – WC PBM, Helios has perhaps the broadest and “longest” perspective, able to draw on several decades of data to identify, parse, and analyze trends.

The PBM also has quite the stable of researchers, PharmDs, and technical writers who have combined to produce a report that is both readable and relevant.

A few key takeaways:

  • Drug costs on a per-claim basis are going up, driven by increases in AWP pricing.  The impact of manufacturers’ price increases is dramatic;
    • Generic AWP was up 10 percent in 2014
    • Brand increased 12.5 percent
  • Opioid utilization is trending downwards by almost every measure; fewer claimants are prescribed opioids; the average Morphine Equivalent Dosage has declined; and the number of MEDs per claimant has dropped as well.
  • Meanwhile, compounds now account for 5.6 percent of spend, an increase of almost 37 percent over 2013.

There is a wealth of additional information in the hundred-odd pages from updates on legislative and regulatory initiatives to an explanation of future cost drivers and external factors influencing utilization.

I’d also note that the Report in and of itself is revealing; the professionalism, graphics, attention to detail and broad coverage of all things work comp pharmacy show just how much work comp PBMs have matured.  While the first drug trend reports from a decade ago were helpful, there’s just no comparison.

Kudos to Helios.

What Maryland SHOULD be studying

Three weeks ago a group of stakeholders in Maryland decided physician dispensing wasn’t that bad [scroll down in link].

These stakeholders agreed to not do anything legislatively to address doc dispensing for another two years because their own analysis had indicated physician dispensing in MD was not changing.  Now, a lobbyist for physician dispensing “technology” firm Automated Healthcare Solutions has penned an opinion piece that can only be described as a hit job on WCRI, a highly respected research organization.

There are two related problems here.

  • It’s obvious the doc dispensers’ strategy is to try to discredit WCRI – no other reason to publish an editorial in a paper in a state that you’ve already won.
  • The stakeholders that signed the letter agreeing to forgo any legislation ignored research from Johns Hopkins University (located in Maryland) proving physician dispensing is associated with much worse patient outcomes.

I won’t dignify the lobbyist’s moronic prattling with a point-by-point rebuttal; WCRI already has in the measured, professional, and very precise way that is the hallmark of academic research. Suffice it to say that the lobbyist’s own writing shows he is even less knowledgeable about statistics, research standards, and data analytics than our Newfies are.

This guy calling out WCRI on statistical analysis is akin to me telling Blake Shelton he doesn’t know the music business.

Next, in a letter citing the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission, the stakeholders asserted “contrary to previous trends reported by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute, Maryland claimants received a smaller proportion of prescription drugs dispensed directly from their physicians, as compared with prescriptions dispensed from pharmacies.”  After much review, my conclusion is this – there are differences in the methodologies used by the MWCC and WCRI – but those differences do NOT mean WCRI’s work is wrong.

First, the data collection process the stakeholders used to come up with their conclusion is not as rigorous as it could – and likely should – have been. For example, they asked multiple sources for data on physician dispensing, but failed to provide tight criteria or definitions for these sources to categorize the data. As a result, the findings are questionable because the sources may well have:

  • used different criteria to identify “physician dispensers”
  • used different definitions of “repackaged” drugs
  • differing ability to identify what entity dispensed a drug
  • differing ability to differentiate between physician-owned “pharmacies” and retail pharmacies
  • different definitions of “generic” and “branded” drugs

Second, the MWCC analysis used an entirely different methodology than WCRI, a methodology that, among other factors, included different time periods and a different set of claims.  It is NOT surprising that different data sets, different methodologies, different time lines yield different results.

On its own initiative, WCRI used the stakeholders’ methodology in an attempt to understand the discrepancy, with the following result:

When we replicate the data and methods used by the Commission on the data used in our Maryland draft study, we get 16.7 percent where the Commission reported that 15.7 percent of prescriptions were dispensed at physicians’ offices. Hence, when we use similar methods on different data sets, we get similar results.

Ignored in the lobbyist’s “editorial”, and by the stakeholders as well, is this:

In the last published WCRI study on this topic, Maryland was compared to 20 other larger than average states. We found that physician dispensing in Maryland was more frequent than in 17 of these 20 states—twice as common as in the median state, [emphasis added] and four times more frequent than in the neighboring state of Virginia. 

Rather than get into a “mine’s better than your’s” conversation, here’s what we know.

There’s no question Maryland has a very large physician dispensing problem – one that all the research indicates is likely driving worse outcomes for patients and higher costs for employers and taxpayers.  The really troubling thing here is the stakeholders know, or should have known outcomes may be significantly and adversely affected by doc-dispensed drugs, yet went along with the deal.

In conversations with stakeholders, I asked why they didn’t consider this, and got no answer.  When I pressed and asked if they were going to work with JHU’s researchers to look at outcomes, I was told they “may have to think about that.”

Think about…what?

I don’t think these stakeholders are bad people or ill-intentioned; they do have a lot on their collective plate.

I do think they have – for their own reasons, which may make sense to them – given up the fight against physician dispensing.

In so doing, they are missing out on an opportunity to help Maryland employers, taxpayers, and injured workers.

They are also empowering the dispensers in other states.

What does this mean for you?

All the research indicates physician dispensing increases disability duration, indemnity expense and medical costs.  THAT is what Maryland should study.

Note – in the interest of full disclosure, I am (as most of you already know) president of CompPharma LLC, a consortium of workers’ compensation PBMs. It’s also important for readers to know that it matters not one iota to me financially if physician dispensing increases or decreases.

It does matter to me personally as it is flat out wrong. It is bad policy that is damaging the many to enrich a very few.

The work comp PBM industry’s evolution continues

The news that Catamaran has acquired PBM, bill review, and network company Healthcare Solutions is yet more evidence that the workers’ comp services market is mature and evolving.  Nowhere is this more evident than the WC PBM industry where there are now six major PBMs, down from ten just five years ago.

This is partly due to the change in definition of “major”; as industries consolidate the size of the companies increases as scale and buying power become critical to success.

As a colleague pointed out, this transaction doesn’t consolidate the industry per se…

Here are the key data points…

  • HCS’ purchase price is $405 million
  • at EBITDA of $35 million, the multiple is a very healthy 11.6x
  • the deal is expected to close in the second quarter
  • Catamaran’s revenues for 2014 were over $21 billion

The transaction transforms Catamaran, the fourth largest PBM serving the health, Medicare and Medicaid industries from a back office and network supplier to the workers’ comp PBM industry to a direct vendor. Things could get complicated, as WC PBMs Carlisle and myMatrixx use Catamaran’s back office and network services.

Sources indicate HCS’ management and staff will remain in place; good move as CEO Joe Boures has a very strong team that has delivered solid sales improvements, a robust and effective clinical program, and strong customer relationships.  As Catamaran doesn’t have these capabilities in-house, and HCS is growing in a mature industry, I’d expect minimal changes.

What does this mean?

Several takeaways.

  • multiples remain very strong – good news for anyone considering selling their company.  Considering it looks like this wasn’t an auction but rather a direct sale, this bodes well for anyone considering a transaction.
  • strong management drives value; after several years of spotty performance, a revamped management team has created a lot of value for HCS’ owners (full disclosure – I have a tiny equity stake left over from a previous role on HCS predecessor Cypress Care’s advisory board)
  • very happy for the Datelle family (founders of Cypress Care); Hank, Marc, and Lisa are all friends and it’s good to see them do well – again.

more to come…

Drugs dispensed by docs may well be dangerous

Greg Jones has done a masterful job finding out just who is manufacturing the new “novel” drugs being dispensed by docs to workers’ comp claimants.

In his piece in today’s WorkCompCentral, Jones finds there are just seven companies manufacturing the three novel drugs with unique strengths about which WCRI concluded “it is likely that financial incentives drove some physicians to choose the strength for their patients.” [link leads to abstract, full report available for purchase here]

According to the piece;

Several of the companies [manufacturing the novel drugs] have been fined or warned by the federal government for engaging in unsafe practices, while another paid $12 million to resolve allegations that it paid kickbacks to doctors to prescribe its products. [emphasis added]

We aren’t talking minor misdemeanors, the FDA’s equivalent of parking tickets.  Here’s a quick summary of just a few of these companies’ transgressions.

  • Ranbaxy pleaded guilty to seven felonies and paid fines of $500 million for shipping drugs that weren’t tested for impurities and making fraudulent statements about quality-control tests.
  • Victory Pharma paid $11.4 million to settle criminal and civil allegations re paying kickbacks to prescribing physicians
  • Bryant Ranch was warned by the FDA for failure to put in place systems to prevent contamination during drug manufacturing.  Bryant was also manufacturing at least 10 drugs that were unapproved by the FDA.

There’s much more in Jones’ article, which should be required reading for legislators and regulators dealing with workers’ comp.  

The net is this – putting price controls on doc dispensing doesn’t work; it is blatantly obvious the doc dispensing industry has figured out how to keep generating huge profits despite legislation or regulations in 18 states intended to limit profiteering.

Those profits come from employers and taxpayers, and they come at the risk of sickening or killing claimants.

Thanks to Greg Jones and WorkCompCentral for this – it is wonderful to see that investigative reporting isn’t dead. It is also inspiring to see how real reporters work.

What does this mean for you?

Just say no.  Refuse to pay for doc dispensed drugs.  If providers in your network are dispensing, kick them out.

If your state forces you to pay, use whatever legal methods exist – and every state has them – to delay and deny payment.

Oh, and subscribe to WorkCompCentral, too…

 

Pharmacy Management in Worker’s Comp – 11th annual survey

Is up and available for your downloading pleasure here.

Among the highlights are the following…

  • drug spend for the 25 respondents declined year-over-year, marking the fourth year of flat or decreasing spend
  • despite that good news, payers remain more concerned about drug costs than other medical cost areas
  • opioids and related issues again dominated the conversation (the survey was telephonic and took about 20 minutes) with respondents noting issues related to addiction, drug testing, fraud/waste/abuse/diversion, cost, delayed recovery and increased indemnity expense as concerns
  • compound drugs were identified as the biggest emerging issue
  • respondents also noted that regulations and legislation have not kept pace with developments in work comp pharma such as the growth of physician dispensing

The report contains a host of statistics, data, and insights from the respondents, along with perspective gained from doing the survey for over a decade.

Happy reading!