Oct
3

Chronic opioids can be solved

That’s the key lesson from today’s session on Dealing with legacy opioid claims at IAIABC’s 104th Convention.

BWC Ohio’s Nick Trego PharmD, State Fund of California’s Chief Medical Officer Dinesh Govindarao MD, Washington L&I Medical Director Gary Franklin MD MPH, and Sedgwick Pharmacy Director Paul Peak all documented significant reductions in long-term opioid usage in their patient populations.

That means many fewer moms without kids, husbands without wives, and kids without grandparents.

Among the takeaways…

Prevention is critical – we’re doing a very good job of preventing more Opioid Abuse Disorder (OAD) patients.

Flexible treatment options are critical – every patient is different, with some responding to Medication-Assisted Therapy and others not.  The same is true for exercise, yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture, and PT.

Closed physician networks, formularies and UR with teeth are critical – it’s tough to get bad docs to become good ones, so kicking them out of your panel is necessary.

Analytics are critical – to identify patients at risk of OAD, to monitor progress, to evaluate success, to learn what works and what doesn’t and why.

Full payer access to Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs is critical – but only available in a handful of states. Access to PDMPs that require physician usage would go a long way to reducing inappropriate prescribing and polypharmacy.

Results – Across the board we heard of dramatic reductions in the volume and potency of scripts prescribed and the number of patients taking opioids over the long term.

What does this mean for you?

It can be done, it is being done, and it must be done.


Sep
28

Research Roundup – Friday edition

So, hard as it is to believe, there was some non-Supreme Court hearing stuff going on this week.

I know…I missed most of it too.

So, here’s some of the most important research we all missed while overloading incoming web servers watching yesterday’s hearing.

Drugs, Opioids, and profiteering physicians

The fine folks at WCRI continue to do lots of stuff so we don’t have to. Two things stand out this week; a compendium of every state’s work-comp pharmacy-related regulations, and a webinar on the effectiveness – or lack thereof – of regulations designed to address the should-almost-never-be-allowed practice of physicians dispensing drugs for profit.

Out in the real world, we learn that in many cases it’s harder to get access to drugs to deal with Opioid Use Disorder than to get the opioids that cause OUD. 

14% of plans do not cover buprenorphine/naloxone, a preferred medication for OUD maintenance treatment. Only 11% of plans cover implantable buprenorphine and 26% cover injectable naltrexone, both of which may facilitate adherence for patients with OUD. Seventy-three percent of plans cover at least one abuse-deterrent opioid pain medication, while 100% of plans cover at least one short-acting opioid pain medication.

Hey P&T committees, get with the times!

Making sense of data

myMatrixx’ Cliff Beliveau has an excellent piece on using data visualization to help explain complex issues. Well worth a read.

Dumb things companies do

Roberto Ceniceros’ column on Lockton’s denied-claim research has been on my desktop for weeks. I’ve read it twice, and you should too. Net is this – denying claims is often a really bad idea.

Finally, from the professor who teaches what may be the only most important class in business school comes an eye-opening look into how work is bad for you. The logic and rationale is not what you may think. Here’s just one excerpt, which I would label Companies are not smart:

Companies do not act on the basis of the best evidence. They merge even though much research shows that mergers destroy value. They use forced-curve ranking systems for performance reviews even though extensive evidence documents the harmful effects. There is no reason to believe they would behave any differently with respect to their human capital.

Evidence shows work hours are negatively related to productivity, that giving people more autonomy leads to higher motivation, and that layoffs often harm performance, including profits. So in making employees sick, employers have created a lose-lose situation.

Enjoy the first weekend of fall.


Sep
20

Research Roundup

Trying a new idea out today – a post that is

a) a quick overview of the latest research on stuff that’s important (at least to me) and

b) my thoughts on what it means to you.

Disability

A new report documents the results of a very robust study of work comp patients done in Washington State. It found that “reorganizing the delivery of occupational health care to support effective secondary prevention in the first 3 months following injury” reduced long term disability by 30%.

Briefly, patients treated in the State Centers for Occupational Health and Education were significantly less likely to become permanently disabled than those treated outside the COHE system.

This means – find out what the COHEs are doing, and replicate it.

Hat tip tp Gary Franklin MD MPH, Medical Director of Washington L&I

Employment

We’ll need all those workers back on the job, if the World Economic Forum’s forecast that automation will create millions more jobs than it will destroy. The report claims there will be 58 million more new jobs than lost jobs as companies shift to more automation – and this is within 5 years.

HOWEVER – these jobs will go unfilled if trained and capable workers aren’t around to staff them.

This means – companies best invest in training for tomorrow’s jobs. And integrating this with return-to-work would be pretty damn brilliant.

Monday Claims

More in the string of great stuff from NCCI, this week the Boca brainiacs released a study of “Monday morning claims.” The news is..there’s no news. The implementation of the ACA (THANK YOU for not mis-calling this “Obamacare”) did not change the percentage of claims that were reported on Monday, even in those states that had the largest decrease in the uninsured population post-ACA.

This means – we need to stop talking about Monday morning claims – which aren’t a thing.

More to come next week


Aug
17

The Opioid Update

72,000 kids, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, best friends died last year from opioid overdoses.

Things are so bad that despite the ever-climbing death toll, news reports announcing the butcher’s bill manage to sound somewhat positive, citing reductions in deaths in a handful of states. Meanwhile, between 2.1 and 4 million Americans suffer from Opioid Abuse Disorder. 

Fentanyl is now the biggest driver, accelerating a years-long upward trend begun by rampant over-prescribing of prescription opioids.

Researchers cite some reasons for optimism; death rates in the west remain pretty flat – likely because the heroin used there is hard to mix with fentanyl…however there’s evidence that the black tar folks are figuring out how to do just that.

Meanwhile, Congress dithers; debating, pontificating, speechifying – and doing precious little.

To date, they’ve allocated a mere billion dollars to the biggest health crisis we’ve seen in decades.

Here in workers’ comp land, CWCI just released an analysis of polypharmacy among work comp patients in California. (Polypharmcy refers to patients getting multiple drugs.)

Two key takeaways:

  • A combination of  opioids, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatories was the most common drug cocktail. (opioids combined with muscle relaxants are very, very dangerous)
  • Shockingly, fully one-fifth of patients prescribed 3 or more drugs have back strains without skeletal involvement. Another tenth have various other sprains.  Yup, strains and sprains account for about a third of these patients.

What does this mean for you?

The next time someone protests the UR/IMR process, ask them how many more patients have to die from opioids before they accept that doctors need oversight.

 


Jul
12

Workers’ comp drugs – its NOT about the cost

The reaction to yesterday’s news that pharmacy costs have dropped by over a billion dollars was a bit disappointing – and missed the key takeaway.

That is – we’ve made a ton of progress, and we still have a long way to go.

Instead, some asked “where are the savings going?”, claiming employers and patients aren’t benefiting from the reduced cost.

A Kansas legislator was among those positing that question; perhaps he was unaware that Kansas employer’s premiums dropped 7.6% this year. Kansas’ results mirrored the nation’s and other states:

Of course, there are many other reasons rates and premiums are dropping across the board:

  • a nine-year long economic expansion;
  • a solid job market;
  • continued decline in claim frequency and anecdotal reports of a drop in total claim counts;
  • better control of medical costs; and
  • lots of capacity in the insurance market

are the most significant contributors.

Another critic complained that “the savings are going into insurers’ pockets.” There is some truth to that, as workers’ comp insurer profits remain at near-record levels despite the continued decrease in premiums.

(Re increased benefits for patients, that is a state regulatory issue as indemnity benefits are almost all driven by a formula involving cost-of-living benchmarks)

But the key point is this – work comp has done great work eliminating opioids – and that is wonderful news by any standard.

As CompPharma’s report details, a key driver of the drop in drug costs is lower opioid utilization. That is very good news indeed; fewer patients are getting opioids, and other reports indicate dosages and treatment duration are declining as well. Moreover, the drop in opioid usage in work comp is far greater than the overall decline in drug spend, indicating we are doing a far better job than the rest of the insurance world despite the difficulties inherent in managing drug utilization in comp (no economic levers to influence consumer behavior, few states with pharmacy network direction, widely varying regulatory environments).

For fifteen years I’ve been interviewing the people most responsible for addressing the opioid crisis in work comp. While costs are important, without exception these professionals see their job as improving patient care, reducing the risks and dangers inherent in opioid prescribing, and helping patients recover quickly.

Their relentless focus is leading to healthier patients and lower costs for employers.

We have a very long way to go. While lots of work from lots of people has helped dramatically reduce the initial (or even more problematic second) opioid script, the much tougher challenge is helping long-term opioid patients reduce and end their use of the drug.

Some payers are making solid progress; you can hear from four of them at IAIABC’s annual meeting this fall. I’ll be moderating an intensive review of how these payers are successfully helping patients reduce opioid consumption and get back to being themselves.

What does this mean for you?

Congratulations on making major differences in many patients’ lives. Now the hard work begins. 

 

 

 


Jul
11

A billion dollars and better care

Work comp drug costs have dropped by over a billion dollars over the last eight years.

What’s even better news is this has been driven largely by sharply lower opioid utilization.

The bad news is there are still far too many patients suffering from Opioid Abuse Disorder brought on by massive overprescription of opioids.

Across all 29 workers’ comp payers surveyed by CompPharma, drug costs dropped almost 10 percent last year compared to 2016. (Total US drug costs decreased last year by 2.1 percent)

The results come from our annual Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Workers’ Comp, a project now in its fifteenth year.

Payers cited clinical programs as the primary driver of lower opioid and total drug spend. A key takeaway come from payers’ views of formularies:

many respondents did NOT want to abandon their internal formularies in favor of a one-size-fits-all blanket formulary. These payers noted patients are all different, their needs evolve throughout the course of treatment and recovery, and therefore their pharmacy needs would change as well. While they were in favor of managed (state-mandated) formularies for initial fills, they want flexibility to adapt to the patient’s condition and needs without putting undue burden on the prescriber and pharmacy to comply with prior authorization requirements.

The public version of the Survey Report is available here for download; respondents received a more detailed version of the Report.

As the author of the Survey, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the respondents who have provided data and their views and opinions over the last 15 years. Their willingness to share their insights and perspectives has gone a long way to helping improve patient care.

I’d also note that work comp Pharmacy Benefit Managers have been largely responsible for reducing employer’s drug costs and opioid overuse. Another way to put this – PBMs have dramatically reduced their revenues by improving their customers’ and patients results.

 


Jun
21

Why we’re not solving opioid addiction

The reason opioid abuse disorder (OAD) is such a huge problem is because no one’s figured out how to a) fix it while b) making a shipload of money.

Sure, there are “solutions” that address bits and pieces including:

  • urine drug testing identifies patients who aren’t taking prescribed drugs and/or are taking other licit or illicit medications;
  • Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT) can and does help many wean off opioids without going thru withdrawal;
  • inpatient or outpatient detox is essential for some OAD patients;
  • physical therapy and exercise is helpful for many; and
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is essential for many patients.

But many patients require many of these services, while some do fine with one or two.

There is no single silver bullet.

What we aren’t doing is funding community-based treatment facilities and providers. This is essential because OAD is a long-term chronic disease, and patients need follow up and support for years.

The real issue is three-fold – treating OAD usually requires dealing with the patient’s chronic pain as well; OAD is a lifetime disorder; and every patient is different.

The terror of withdrawal coupled with the dread of chronic pain is hugely difficult to overcome. Patients are justifiably terrified of both, and this fear must be addressed throughout the treatment process. This is a long-term process likely involving different treatment modalities delivered by diverse providers.

Some patients respond to MAT, others do not. Some have family support systems, others are pretty much on their own. Some respond to PT and exercise, others are too afraid the effort will trigger a resurgence of pain. And the only way to find out what works for Patient X is to keep trying different approaches, providers, modalities until you find something that works.

No one has cracked the code, come up with a set process, solution or approach that works for most patients. Until someone figures out how to make gazillions fixing people with substance abuse disorder, I don’t expect the nation will make real progress.

That does NOT mean there aren’t real successes happening every day.

California’s State Fund is one of the leaders, delivering remarkable results through a careful, methodical approach.

Here’s the key – OAD can be a lifetime issue. Do not fear this, rather accept it as reality. It’s far easier to throw one’s hands up at the difficulty of it all rather than dig in and get going, but it’s also what led to hundreds of thousands of workers comp patients with OAD.

What does this mean for you?

Those who are in it for the long haul are going to be the difference makers.


Jun
5

BWC Ohio picks a new Pharmacy Benefit Manager

Several weeks ago Ohio’s state work comp fund – the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation – selected a new PBM to replace OptumRx.

This has me thinking more broadly about the vendor-customer relationship and how that’s evolving.

First, buyers are getting smarter. BWC’s former and current pharmacy directors (John Hanna and Nicholas Trego respectively) are not just pharmacists, they have become expert in pricing, auditing PBM transactions, understanding contracting language, and negotiations.

According to WorkCompCentral’s William Rabb, BWC learned it was paying OptumRx millions more than it should have after conducting an audit earlier this year.  Quoting Rabb:

an audit showed that the current PBM, OptumRx, failed to keep drug prices below the maximum allowable cost as required.

The audit is here.

Without getting too deep in the weeds here, allegedly OptumRx was supposed to keep generic drug prices at or below a Maximum Allowable Cost, or MAC. However, the audit indicated OptumRx failed to do that, resulting in BWC paying about $5.7 million more for generics than it should have.

Seems straightforward, but this can be hard to figure out as the list of drugs subject to MAC list pricing is often not disclosed.  That is, the PBM has a “proprietary” MAC list which it does NOT have to share with its customer.

Obviously this makes it hard for the customer to figure out if it is paying what it should.

Second, major issues don’t just pop up out of thin air; its unlikely BWC first expressed concerns a few months ago.

Moving an $84 million pharmacy program – or any big service – is no easy task; there’s a ton of systems programming to be done and tested; patients to be switched from one PBM to the new one; adjusters and case managers to train; financial arrangements to be agreed upon; pharmacies and employers to educate; and myriad other tasks.

Payers do NOT make changes unless they have no other choice due to the switching cost, potential business and patient care disruption, and internal stress involved in moving to a new PBM (or any other service type).

Service providers need to ensure that their senior managers and front-line staff understand their customer’s situation, concerns, needs, and plans.  Equally important, senior management must empower their client-facing staff, giving those staff the ability to fix problems, highlight issues, and marshal resources needed to meet clients’ needs. (I’d note that Optum’s work comp PBM recently brought Kaye Lewis back on board to run account management; Kaye is universally well-regarded and one of the best in the business; I had mistakenly said Kaye was working with OptumRx which focuses on the broader health marketplace. I regret the error. )

Third, vendors need to own up to and deliver on their commitments to all involved.  Quibbling over contractual terms, arguing over this clause or that, or word-stretching to avoid doing what the customer or the customer’s advocates need done reflects short-term, myopic thinking.

Sure, you may be “right”, but you’ll win that battle and lose the war.

What does this mean for you?

These days customers are harder and harder to come by, so when you get one, make darn sure you keep them. Listen, anticipate, deliver, and be flexible.

And most of all, meet their needs.


Jun
4

Drug rebates, technology, and what’s next

Two years ago, brand drug manufacturers paid out $127 billion in rebates and other discounts and fees.

That, dear reader, is a ship-load of dollars, and shows just how distorted brand-drug pricing has become.  Huge increases jack up list prices and in many instances consumers’ costs, while those fees flow to payers, PBMs, and other entities in the pharma distribution.

Most consumers’ costs are based on the total price of the drugs they buy, not the net price after rebates etc. As a result, consumers may be paying an inflated price while their insurer gets the rebate dollars. I’d note that in some benefit plans consumers do receive a share of the rebates in the form of discounted drugs or lower up-front costs. Two big PBMs indicate they give about 90% of rebate dollars to their clients. 

Who hopefully pass those dollars along to their members.

Evidently, rebate contractual terms can be opaque, confusing, and subject to misinterpretation, a rather scary possibility given the billions at stake.

I recently spoke with the CEO of a company that’s deep into the rebate management process. Quantivus uses technology to help payers and pharma track all those clauses, heretofores, and whereas-es in rebate contracts to be sure the right dollars are paid for the right drugs to the right entities.

Quantivus’ solution helps stakeholders standardize terms and definitions, allowing them to ensure that they are comparing apples to apples when considering rival drugs – or rival payers. It does other stuff as well, and the company is working on a related service that will tie the negotiated contract to operational systems, helping to standardize reporting of rebate financials for manufacturers and payers.

It’s interesting in a couple of geeky ways; evidently these contracts are so complex and convoluted that they can be mis-interpreted or misunderstood, potentially costing the pharma company or its customer millions. Which there are plenty of.

It’s also interesting in that CEO Lisa Bair and her team have figured out a software solution to a problem that seems to get more complicated and more financially important by the minute.

If I was an attorney focused on rebate contracts, I’d be just a bit concerned that I could be replaced by Bair’s technology.

 

 

 


May
31

Thursday catch-up

Lots going on out there – here’s what you may have missed…

Opioids

The awful people at Purdue Pharma knew damn well their opioids were being misused, repeatedly denied it, and kept pushing their pills on doctors and patients. They lied to investigators, manipulated data, and are directly responsible for today’s opioid disaster. This from Barry Meier’s piece:

credit NYTimes

But the Feds aren’t blameless; in 2007 the US Justice Department allowed Purdue officials and the company to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges.

Think of that – misdemeanor charges for those most responsible for the opioid epidemic. Street corner drug dealers go to jail for years, and these fat cat execs with their lavish lifestyles and fancy lawyers pay a small fine.

I cannot put into words how much I hate these bastards, and how furious we all should be about a Justice Department that let them get away with it..

Breathe…

WCRI is hosting a webinar on the impact of opioids on disability duration on Thursday June 21 at 1pm eastern. Bogdan Savych PhD will address the following questions:

  • Do opioid prescriptions increase duration of temporary disability benefits?
  • Do longer-term opioid prescriptions increase duration of temporary disability benefits?
  • What role do local prescribing patterns play in determining whether injured workers received opioid prescriptions?

The study examines the effect of opioid prescriptions on the duration of temporary disability benefits among workers with work-related low back injuries using data from 28 states, for injuries between 2008 and 2013.

Register here…free for WCRI members, a nominal fee for others.

If you’re wondering why Congress isn’t doing more to attack the opioid crisis – and it isn’t doing much at all – blame the lobbyists, including those working for the AMA, the seventh highest lobbying spender in 2017, with $21.5 million spent.

The AMA is fighting 3-day opioid script limits, mandatory use of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, and mandatory opioid education for prescribers.

WTF??!!!

Twisting words to blame the victim

Poor people are less healthy than people who aren’t poor. That’s because their diets aren’t as good, they have poor access to care, their lives are far more stressful, substance abuse is more prevalent, and they are more often victims of crime.

These factors have long been known as “social determinants of health”, the idea that just being poor means moms, kids, dads are going to be less healthy than you and me.

The “work for Medicaid” crowd is attempting to steal the term “social determinants” by using it to claim that forcing people to work for Medicaid is good for them.

That’s just not true. In fact, forcing Medicaid recipients to go thru a maze of paperwork and administrative hurdles to prove they can’t work  – and if that recipient messes up the paperwork, fails to submit it on time, or isn’t able to accurately document their disability,

BOOM! they lose Medicaid coverage.

And they get sicker, and we end up paying for their care in the ER.

And the data shows folks who HAVE Medicaid are better able to find work! From the HealthAffairs piece:

illness and disability are among the primary reasons working-age adults are not employed and this problem is exacerbated when people lack access to the health coverage they need get care for their health problems. Enrollment in health coverage has been shown to be a significant factor in helping individuals find jobs, with over 75 percent of unemployed Medicaid enrollees in Ohio reporting that gaining access to health coverage made their job search easier.

Oh, and at least one state’s policies is blatantly racist.

There’s more, but I have to get to work.