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!

Physician dispensing in work comp; two victories!

I know, you are as tired of reading about physician dispensing in work comp as I am writing about it.  At last, there’s some very good news.

Quick refresher – docs dispensing drugs adds about a billion dollars in excess drug costs – plus increases disability duration by 10 percent, medical costs, and total claims costs.  Dispensing docs also prescribe more opioids to more claimants.

Benefits?  None, except huge profits to dispensing docs, dispensing companies, and their owners – we’re talking about you, ABRY. (investment firm that owns dispensing “technology” firm Automated Healthcare Solutions)

First up, a court case in Louisiana found in favor of the employer, as the 3rd Circuit upheld a workers’ compensation judge’s determination that a claimant would not be reimbursed for drugs dispensed by a third party pharmacy, in this case Injured Workers’ Pharmacy, when the employer had provided access to other pharmacies and otherwise complied with regulations. According to Troy Prevot, Executive Director of LCTA Workers’ Comp -  “The result of this decision will allow us to continue to use retail pharmacies to control pharmacy cost by negotiating lower pricing thru PBMs” instead of paying much higher prices for doctor dispensed or third-party mail order drugs.  

I’d add that LCTA’s victory will enable all other employers in Louisiana to ensure the clinical management of pharmacy is handled correctly by one entity.

Big news from Pennsylvania too – a bill (HB 1846) limiting physician dispensing duration and cost, and specifically targeting opioid dispensing, will become law (there’s some technical stuff going on, but it will happen). Among other things, the law will:

There has been much heavy lifting here – kudos to AIA, the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania (the leader of the effort) PCI, the PA Chamber and CompPharma’s member PBMs (full disclosure I am president of CompPharma; the PBMs did the work).

This follows the good results in North Carolina – but all is not rosy, as Maryland and Hawaii employers and taxpayers are still stuck paying far too much for drugs and the crappy outcomes they deliver.

What does this mean for you?

Better outcomes for claimants, lower costs for employers and taxpayers!

Drug formularies – much needed in workers comp

Controlling drug usage in workers’ comp is – far too often – the proverbial pushing on the rope.

Sure, PBMs and payers have done a remarkable job constraining costs and reducing the initial inappropriate use of opioids. Virtually all payers use PBMs and benefit greatly from PBMs’ clinical management and pricing that is almost always significantly lower than the state fee schedule or retail price.

However…the explosive growth of compounding, the fact that a quarter of drug costs are for opioids and a third for physician-dispensed drugs, the inability of clinical staff to get many prescribing physicians to discuss potential alternative treatments, and the frustration experienced by adjusters and employers unable to resolve claims due to long-term, highly-dangerous, and counterproductive use of drugs all argue for more regulatory help.

There are two valuable and too-little used tools in the box; evidence-based guidelines backed up by strong UR and formularies. While many jurisdictions dabble in guidelines, the litigious nature of comp coupled with the imprecise and nebulous wording of regulations often results in more problems, less clarity, and more delays.

In contrast, formularies established in regulation, whether the very tight version used in Washington State or the loose one in Texas, are clear, precise, and incontrovertible.  Drugs are either allowed or not.

CWCI’s just-released study analyzes the potential impact on work comp of those two formularies.  By comparing the drugs dispensed in the Golden State to what would have been allowed by Texas or Washington, Swedlow et al have determined that employers and taxpayers are overpaying somewhere between $102 million and $541 million annually – with no negative effects.

Before some naysayer starts screaming about the unfairness of payers influencing doctors’ treatment decisions, that naysayer should understand that formularies are in place in every group health, Medicare, Medicaid, and individual health plan.  Moreover, said naysayer should READ the CWCI study, and note that a “formulary” may be “set” to require dispensing of the drug that is the lowest-cost but otherwise identical drug instead of a higher-priced-but-otherwise-identical medication – or use any one of several other “levels” to establish a somewhat more restrictive formulary.

Formularies provide better care and tighter control without compromising.  And, a major benefit would be the huge reduction in the contentious and generally pointless UR dealing with drugs…a third of California’s IMRs are for drugs.

An excellent review is in this am’s WorkCompCentral – Greg Jones has penned a thorough, detailed, and well-researched piece that should be required reading.

Physician dispensing in workers’ comp is killing your financials

The cost of physician dispensing is far above the outrageous premiums the dispensers charge.  The real cost includes:

  • longer disability duration
  • higher medical expense – over and above the excess cost of drugs
  • higher indemnity expense
  • more and longer use of opioids

Lost in the conversation, ignored in legislation, and pooh-poohed by dispensers and their enablers, the research – real research by real scientists, not anecdotal BS by dispensers – proves dispensing is having cost implications far and above the cost of the drugs.

In addition to the ground-breaking work done by Alex Swedlow et al at CWCI, the folks at Accident Fund (kudos to Jeffrey Austin White) teamed up with Johns Hopkins to analyze the impact of dispensing on their claims.

The results – which will be discussed next week in an IAIABC-sponsored webinar – are striking.

Slots for the webinar are still available – it will be held next Wednesday, September 10 from 1-2 Central Time.

Kudos to IAIABC for their leadership on this.

 

 

Survey of Drug management in work comp – quick take

This is the eleventh (!) year I’ve been involved in surveying workers’ comp payers to get their take on pharmacy management.  Now that Yvonne Guibert (thank you Yvonne) has finished collecting the data, I’m working on the report.  It’s going to take a week or so, but I’ve pulled a couple highlights to whet your appetite.

  • Overall, drug spend declined for most of the 25 respondents, with some seeing percentage decreases in the double-digits.
  • In addition, total spending (across all respondents) declined as well – by about the same margin.
  • Top problem? close between opioids and physician dispensing, same as last year.
  • Biggest emerging problem? Compounds, without a doubt.
  • 21 of 25 respondents said prescription drug costs were more or much more important than other medical cost issues at their organization.
  • 88% of the 25 respondents (large, mid-sized, and small WC TPAs, state funds, and carriers) have a urine drug monitoring program in place today or will by the end of the year.

Much more to come – the data geek in me is getting all fired up about what we’re going to learn.

Thanks to the 25 organizations who spent time collecting their data, then sharing it with Yvonne.  This is not an easy task, but one that really helps all of us understand what is going on with pharmacy programs, utilization, solutions and cost drivers and how payers are addressing the issue.

Stay tuned…

Friday catch-up – the work comp world

WorkCompCentral’s Joey Berlin wrote up the details of a presentation on chronic pain treatment featuring Gary Franklin MD, Medical Director of Washington state fund L&I, Kathryn Mueller MD, Medical Director of Colorado’s Work Comp department, Noah Aleshire of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and John Hanna PharmD, Pharmacy Director of Ohio BWC.

This august panel laid out the problem and discussed the potential for solutions including cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, tight dosing and opioid treatment guidelines, and tight formularies. Hanna’s BWC has made solid progress in reducing the number of long-term claimants on opioids, adding more support for the expansion of formularies – and the tight UR rules that make them effective – to other states.

Kudos to CDC for bringing these folks together.

Mail order pharmacy IWP has been sold.  

The auction had been going on for several months, with many private equity firms taking an initial look at the company; the new owners are a quad-umvirate (my new word) comprised of PE firms ACON and Triton Pacific along with two individuals, Patrick Keefe and Tracy Finn.

I’m not a fan of IWP; they rely on doctors and attorneys to get injured workers to use their pharmacy services, claiming that these worthies do it because the workers can’t get their drug otherwise. While that may be true for a (very) few claimants, it most certainly is not for the vast majority.  So, why do docs use IWP? That was the question asked by several of the potential investors I spoke with, and none were comfortable with the answers.

CEO Ken Martino is a long-time friend and colleague, much as I respect the guy I just don’t see the value and the distribution model is a question mark.

Sticking with the pharmacy story line, IAIABC is hosting a primer on Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs on August 26.  PDMPs are another piece of the solution to the opioid disaster, helping to prevent doctor shopping, duplicate therapy, fraud and diversion.  Sign up here.

Payers – insurers, TPAs, and self-insured employers – should pay particular attention as some states allow payers and their agents to access PDMP data, while others don’t.

Off to work – enjoy your mid-summer weekend!

 

 

 

The contentious and misunderstood world of drug testing

Any time you have to mention urine in a blog post you know it’s going to be a tough one.

There’s a kerfuffle in the world of urine drug testing, one of the more litigious and contentious industries I’ve ever encountered.  The parties involved, Ameritox and Millennium Labs, have been involved in litigation for some time now.  [full disclosure, Millennium has been a consulting client for a couple of years; I work closely with them, and have found them to be great people who do the right thing consistently.]

A while back, Ameritox lost a suit brought by Millennium over alleged deceptive advertising; more recently a jury ruled Millennium had improperly given cups to docs in four states, a practice the jury deemed an unfair trade practice. Ameritox trumpeted their “win”, however the jury’s finding was inconsistent with the opinion of several experts in the area, all other charges were dropped, and the case is on appeal.  And there was a serious legal question raised when one of the key witnesses allegedly provided information that perhaps they had no right to.

Be that as it may, the case was noted by friend and colleague David DePaolo, who opined: 

While medical guidelines recommend drug testing for compliance purposes and to help ensure that drugs aren’t being diverted to the black market, we know those are specific case recommendations particular to a certain set of medical facts, not to be applied universally.

But the way medical suppliers stimulate sales with physician gifting and revenue enhancement programs tests the ethical and moral qualities of the individuals on the front lines, and physicians should not be placed in those positions, and we should not be placed into positions of having to pay for it.

Sometimes drug testing is warranted. Most of the time it is not.

A couple comments.

First, research from various organizations including WCRI clearly indicates there’s far too much testing going on of a small population, and far too little of most.  About a quarter of folks who should be tested are, while some unscrupulous docs test every patient every time, making bank.  I respectfully disagree with David’s statement that “most of the time” drug testing isn’t warranted.

Second,

What is correct is to say many more patients taking opioids should be tested, and that testing should comply with accepted evidence-based clinical guidelines; Washington State, Colorado, ACOEM, and others are all excellent sources.

Opioid abuse, misuse, diversion, and related problems have long surpassed crisis status – we’re now in a national disaster with more people dying from this than motor vehicle accidents.  Drug testing is a critical part of the answer.  Yes, there are vehement disagreements among stakeholders, and yes, they can get very contentious, and yes, I have a dog in this fight.  That said, I – and many others – have been working long and hard to bring attention to the opioid disaster, and we need to keep the focus on addressing the problem and not get distracted by tangential issues.

On that all parties should agree.

What doe this mean for you?

There’s a real danger that we over-react, over-simplify this issue, and in so doing make blanket statements that do more harm than good.