Opioids are the largest killer of people under 50

62,000 moms, dads, kids, friends, uncles, aunts died from drug overdoses last year.

Thank you, opioid manufacturers.

Let’s be very clear – this would not be happening if the “legitimate” pill pushers hadn’t co-opted, bribed, lied, and sleazed, funded fake patient advocacy groups, paid hundreds of millions to lobbyists, all in the name of profit.

This is going to get a lot worse – and there is NO indication it’s going to get better.

Drug overdose deaths are skyrocketing in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Florida. Researchers estimate Ohio’s death rate jumped by 25% last year.

The drugs users are taking are so powerful that Narcan – the “get out of jail free” injectable antidote – is becoming increasingly impotent. “E.M.S. crews are hitting them with 12, 13, 14 hits of Narcan with no effect,” said Mr. Burke, likening a shot of Narcan to “a squirt gun in a house fire.” (NYTimes)

More than two million of us are addicted, and over a quarter of us used prescription painkillers last year. That’s more than used tobacco.

States are suing opioid manufacturers in an attempt to recoup some of the billions of dollars this disaster is costing taxpayers, as well they should. But those efforts are happening at the same time the FDA is approving new “abuse deterrent” opioids.  FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is focusing on opioids, which is a very good thing. And truth be told, today’s FDA has pretty limited ability to address the problem, in large part because drug manufacturers are going to make damn sure the FDA’s powers stay limited.

Over the last decade, opioid manufacturers spent close to a billion dollars on campaign contributions and lobbying against state laws limiting opioid prescribing. That’s eight times more than the NRA and the gun lobby.

Sounds like a lot of money, right?

Nope – according to Business Insider, in 2015 alone, Purdue, the manufacturer of Oxycontin, made $2.4 billion from opioid sales.

You may recall Oxycontin was marketed as “abuse deterrent”; Purdue told Business Insider last year “We support policies that align with the FDA and The White House’s view that opioids with abuse-deterrent properties are a public health priority.”

They are certainly a profit priority.

What does this mean for you?

You know someone who’s died, a family destroyed, lives ruined by opioids. There are more coming.

 

 

 

 

The ignorance of arrogance

“If we didn’t come up with the idea, it isn’t worth considering.”

“That can’t be a good idea, we didn’t think of it.”

“Why would we listen to anyone from outside our company; we’re the biggest/best/most experienced/industry leader.”

Those are just three of the statements I’ve heard from large work comp insurers over the last two decades – all  from insurers who’ve fallen far from their glory days of market dominance. They may seem ignorant, or dumb, or even kind of funny – but they were real.

Sitting comfortably in leather chairs behind their nice desks, the men who made these statements were completely secure in their belief that their company, their way of doing things, their mindset and culture were completely infallible.

How wrong they were. As easy as it is for us to see that now is how impossible it was for them to see reality then. 

The next five years are going to bring profound changes to workers’ compensation, changes which – by definition – will make many of today’s business practices obsolete. It isn’t hyperbole to say that unless you completely revamp the processes, systems, technology applications, and metrics you use today, you’re toast tomorrow.

We are seeing that with Liberty’s progressive de-emphasis of workers’ comp. With the increasing outsourcing of claims functions to TPAs. With the rapid growth of what were relatively small players just a few years ago.

And that’s just the beginning.

All these changes have been driven by lower work comp claims frequency – that’s not new news to anyone. But hidden behind this is another major driver – the continued inability of major insurers to understand the business they are in.

Work comp insurers are in the business of managing medical and disability. While many think that’s what they are doing, they aren’t. Their claims management approach, predicated on the disproven model of huge provider networks delivering discounted care and the medical model of disability, overseen by overworked and under-resourced claims adjusters reporting to executives steeped in claims who don’t understand medical issues at all, only seems to work as long as premiums stay high and frequency continues to decline.

Wrenching changes are coming to employment, job availability, workplace demographics, trade and safety nets, changes that the industry is completely unprepared for.

Not to worry; the powers-that-be will schedule meetings, draft memos, write white papers, and do re-org planning, most of which will be completely ineffective, except insofar as it makes the execs feel like they are doing something. They’ll get rid of managed care departments, expertise, programs because “those programs haven’t worked.”

Of course they haven’t, because they were either the wrong programs to start with (percentage of savings network models) or the execs didn’t force adoption of intelligent medical management on a recalcitrant claims culture.

I see this happening all around the industry, and it’s like watching Antarctica melt. By the time these worthies figure out it’s real, they’ll be floating towards the tropics on a rapidly-melting iceberg.

With no landfall in sight.

 

Sheral Kellar is right about formularies.

Formularies that always allow opioids make no sense. That should be obvious to anyone, and it is to Ms Kellar.

(I’m basing this on an article in today’s WorkCompCentral, which stated:

“A pharmacy formulary is a tool that can be used to address the opioid issue. But it is not the only tool. In fact, Dr. Marcus Dillender, a Ph.D. from W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, suggests that careful management by insurers and administrators can achieve the same result,”

Sheral Kellar, Esq. is the Director of Louisiana’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration; deeply experienced, thoughtful and competent. I met Ms Kellar at CompPharma’s annual meeting last fall when she and several other state regulators spoke about formularies and managing drug usage.

Ms Kellar’s state has the second highest rate of opioid usage among workers comp patients, so she is keenly aware of the issue. She also knows a formulary is NOT a panacea, rather just one tool in the armamentarium.

  • Prescription drug monitoring programs that require and facilitate pharmacist and physician participation,
  • Strong and well-designed utilization review programs,
  • Flexibility for PBMs and payers to customize medication therapy to ensure patients get ready access to appropriate drugs and reduce risks from inappropriate medications,
  • Carefully-planned implementation,
  • Drug testing, opioid agreements, and addiction/dependency treatment

are all key to the solution.

I hesitate to pick on one issue as THE problem – however any formulary that always allows hydrocodone is not what Louisiana’s workers need. According to WCRI

  • A higher proportion of injured workers prescribed pain medications in Louisiana (85 percent) received opioids.
  • Among study states, LA had the second highest rate of patients taking two or more opioids
  • LA had the highest morphine equivalents per claim. – 3540 MEDs, more than double the average.

When you have docs using opioids as first-line pain meds – which clearly is the case in Louisiana, and they prescribe more than twice as much as the average state (which is already too high), and they prescribe more than one opioid most of the time, a formulary that automatically allows docs to prescribe hydrocodone – the most commonly used opioid in LA – is not part of the solution.

What does this mean for you?

Yes, solutions require a multi-pronged approach, but those “prongs” should “first do no harm.”

 

 

Friday catch-up

It’s been a bit busy this week; helping my sister take care of our mom in Maine.  Mom is 96 and ready to move on. She’s had an amazing life; grew up during the Great Depression, master’s degree at 21, ran the FBI’s fingerprint lab during WWII and worked for the CIA overseas in the fifties. Tiny, tough, and very, very smart.

Here’s what’s been happening this week…

Thoughtful post from Richard Krasner on medical cost drivers in workers’ comp. Richard’s dug into the recent NCCI analysis of medical cost categories; his take is inpatient hospital costs are a primary driver.

That makes sense for several reasons.

  • health systems are rapidly consolidating the healthcare provider industry, so more providers bill using facility codes every month.
  • health systems know work comp is a very profitable line; at a time when governmental payers are reducing reimbursement, their financial analysts are digging under every bed to find dollars.
  • health systems are very good at reimbursement – they’ve got more people, more systems, more resources and use them very effectively.

Which makes WCRI’s upcoming webinar on provider choice all the more important.

Following their study on the issue, the fine folk from Cambridge Mass. will walk us through what actually happens when employers or employees control the choice of provider. There’s a good bit of nuance here; it isn’t black and white.

HealthNewsReview has a great piece on a very questionable “research study” published by Proove Biosciences. Proove has been hyper-aggressively pursuing workers’ comp business; I’ll let HNR give you their view of Proove’s press release about a “study”:

[the] release summarizes a study showing that the company’s algorithm, which combines genetic markers with lifestyle and behavior variables, accurately distinguishes between healthy patients with no history of opioid abuse and patients receiving opioid addiction treatment. The study, however, may be comparing people with opioid use disorder with the wrong control group, given that a more useful distinction would be between those who have become addicted and those who have used opioids in similar circumstances without becoming addicted. In addition, the news release fails to provide information about the study’s funding source, nor does it note that four of the study’s six authors work for Proove. [emphasis added]

HNR goes on to state: this tool and others like it have been criticized for both reliability and questionable marketing practices.

Intriguing data on Medicaid patient access and satisfaction, from Axios

While you are spending time with friends and family this weekend, enjoying the extra day off and remembering those who made this possible, you may want to consider how fortunate we are.

Tom Lynch penned a piece in WorkersCompInsider about a Massachusetts worker who broke his leg in a construction accident. The guy fell off a ladder, but his employer didn’t carry work comp insurance. Did the boss get in trouble? No – but he did turn the worker into Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who threw him in jail. The victim in this has a wife and three young kids and, as you can imagine, is terrified.

So are his kids.

Have a great weekend.

AHCA and the circular firing squad

Senate Republicans are not going to pass the AHCA.

Here’s why.

credit NYTimes

23 million Americans would lose their healthcare over the next decade.

14 million of those lose their coverage next year – an election year.

Anyone who’s been elected to the Senate is smart enough to know that taking benefits away from your core supporters is political suicide – and make no mistake, AHCA does precisely that.

Core Republican voters are those most hurt by AHCA; lower-income seniors would see their health insurance premiums explode, jumping almost ten times to $16,100.

But it’s not just about coverage – it’s about employment; healthcare systems, doctors offices, insurers and other businesses would shed 1.8 million jobs by 2022. These are well-paid positions, averaging well over $55,000.

That’s $99 billion in wages alone sucked out of the economy.

Here’s what I see happening.

Senate Republicans know they’re screwed if they pass AHCA as is. So, they may claim they’ve delivered on campaign promises to repeal-and-replace “Obamacare” by passing  some legislation – any legislation – that lets Republicans claim they tried to repeal “Obamacare”.

Then, when the House rejects their bill, the Republican Senate can blame it on House Republicans.

Doesn’t matter if you’re a Trump Republican or a Bernie backer, the cold hard political reality is there’s no way to lower premiums, cut budgets, and improve coverage. Anyone with any experience knew that, and knows that.

What does this mean for you?

The circular firing squad is forming.

 

Compounds in workers’ comp

CompPharma’s second research paper on compounds in workers’ comp was published last week. Authored by pharmacists and government affairs professionals from member PBMs, this paper builds on the ground-breaking research published in our first paper. (I’m president and co-founder of CompPharma)

The first research paper provided a solid foundation to provide stakeholders with a deep understanding of the history, practice, limitations, and issues associated with compounds.

This paper takes a deep dive into patient safety, efficacy, and cost.

It also includes a review of many legal issues surrounding compounds in workers comp and details regulatory and legal cases involving allegedly inappropriate activity by compounders and prescribers.

A few key quotes:

CompPharma supports the use of compounding when prescribed by a licensed practitioner with knowledge of evidence-based medicine supporting the use of a compound for a single patient with special needs that prevent the use of a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). [emphasis added]

the use of topical compounded products is not recommended as first-line treatment for workers’ compensation patients [emphasis added]

CompPharma’s 2014 compound research paper stated, “Pharmacies have received FDA warnings regarding topical lidocaine in concentrations greater than 5% and other topical anesthetics.” Some compounding pharmacists responding to the 2014 paper characterized this statement as a misrepresentation. The authors stand by the statement…

…a chief criticism is that by acting as intermediaries, PBMs profit from the use of compounds and other over-priced medications. In reality, the clinical management programs employed by these companies actually decrease PBMs’ top-line revenue [emphasis added]

The first paper upset a few compounding advocates. Their complaints mostly arose because we didn’t address compounding outside of work comp. Frankly, the paper’s focus was, and the latest paper’s focus still is, purposely limited to workers’ comp. Others are welcome to address non-work comp issues, that’s not what we do.

You can download the paper here – there’s no charge and no registration required.

CompPharma is proud to have been the leading force educating the work comp world about compound drugs; thanks to member PBMs for supporting our work, and a special thank you to

  • Phil Walls, RPh, myMatrixx
  • Deborah Conlon, RPh,  BS Pharm, PharmD, OptumRx
  • Brigette Nelson, MS, PharmD, BCNP, Express Scripts
  • Kevin Tribout, OptumRx
  • Nikki Wilson, PharmD/MBA, Coventry

and Contributing Editor Robert E. Bonner, MD, MPH, Principal, Bonner Consulting Group, LLC.

What does this mean for you?

Compounds can be useful and appropriate for patients with unique and unusual needs. This report provides objective, thoroughly-researched information essential to understanding this issue.

NCCI’s Bill Donnell on the future of workers’ comp

NCCI CEO Bill Donnell was kind enough to grant me an interview a few days before his talk at this year’s AIS…I was unable to attend due to another commitment (the great folks at the Workers’ Compensation Association of New Mexico invited me to their annual meeting)

Here’s my interview with Bill.

MCMWhat is the major focus of NCCI’s Annual Issues Symposium this year?

Donnell – Eighteen months into this role, I’ve been getting feedback from industry stakeholders and thinking about the industry. Our approach is the line of business has been around 100 years, and survived that long because we’ve adapted.  If we adapt, will probably survive into the future, if we don’t we’ll become irrelevant.

MCM – Is WC relevant today?

Donnell – We have a financially stable, healthy system, covering north of 90% of the workforce.  The industry and system has a pretty good history of getting injured workers back to work and our focus is on that, and workplaces are safer than they were a long time ago…[we have] a lot to be proud of.

Another component is the whole issue of technological disruption.  [The economy has] shifted from agriculture to manufacturing to service and now service is vulnerable.  This provides perspective as it is kind of scary, but look what’s happened over time; 70 years ago we would have been saying the same thing. The issues are always the same, but things will come faster than they have before…change will happen but this time it will be faster.

MCM – with the rise of automation, autonomous vehicles, the gig economy, increased robotics and artificial intelligence, what could we see in the future?  What we need to do to be relevant in years ahead?

Donnell -Workers’ comp could be a high risk business only with repetitive injuries [from decline in employment in industries with that risk] gone, it would focus on high hazard risks, there would be a smaller but higher risk pool and smaller overall business.

With the whole issue of industry evolution, we have to evolve, we need to move the ball forward. [We need to] talk about the industry’s past success and show where we’ve adapted to change…[the] good news is that we’ve done this before.  We’ll talk about examples of how the industry has evolved…

Thanks to NCCI’s communications chief Dean Dimke for setting this up.

 

 

Express Scripts buys myMatrixx – a smart move for both

This isn’t surprising; workers’ comp is a very mature industry which demands consolidation.  As the market shrinks, winners will be those with size, scale, and buying power.

myMatrixx has a very strong brand, excellent customer implementation and service, strong clinical capabilities and a solid portal. What it doesn’t have is buying power, and the biggest payers shied away from myMatrixx as it is one of the smaller PBMs with a dearth of hundred-million-dollar accounts.

Express Scripts’ work comp division has scale, a core group of really good professionals, and a few marquee customers.  What it doesn’t have is a strong brand image and the resources demanded by payers increasingly relying on their PBMs for all-things-pharmacy; opioid management, data reporting, patient enrollment and monitoring, physician profiling, high-risk-claim flagging.

Artemis Emslie will assume overall leadership.  I’ve known Artemis for 25 years; she has a very good reputation in the industry and knows work comp pharmacy deeply. As she takes over what is now a very large work comp PBM, I’d encourage her and her new bosses to consider a couple things.

Keep the myMatrixx brand.  Brand is all powerful, and the market message that will be heard is things are changing, ESI is investing in and providing resources for work comp. That is critical.

Keep doing the smart marketing mM has done for years – rides from airports to conferences, the Phil Walls webinars, the overwhelming focus on pleasing customers.

Get out to all customers today, and listen listen listen.  Don’t inundate them with corporate speak and blather, rather ask questions, dig deep, and document everything. This is a great opportunity to hear directly from customers – a very valuable opportunity.

Staff at both companies are excited about the merger; I’ve spoken with several who are pretty pumped.  This itself is unusual and speaks to their inherent grasp of each company’s challenges.

While terms weren’t disclosed (they likely will be at some point as ESI is a public company) my sources indicate the price was in the $300 – $350 million range, a hefty valuation indeed.

What does this mean for you?

The whole is rarely greater than the sum of the parts.  In this case, it will be – if the new entity has adequate resources and sticks with what made mM successful. A stronger PBM with more capabilities is good news for all payers.