May
13

Explaining pharmacy pricing, part 4

Do you have any idea if you are paying your PBM what you should?

Work comp payers’ PBM pricing is based on AWP; typically it is a percentage below AWP. Brand drugs are discounted 10-16%, and generic pricing is typically below AWP -40% .

The PBM is making its money on the “spread”; the difference between what it pays the pharmacy, and what it charges you.

Your PBM contracts with retail pharmacies, chains, food and drug purveyors (think Walmart), and independent pharmacies. In some cases third party billers are also contracted, along with physician dispensers and mail order pharmacies.

Here’s where it gets funky.

The PBM’s contracted rates with those pharmacies are all over the place and may even vary by region or drug. That’s fine; you are getting a discount, and the PBM is betting it will – overall – make a profit.

That is, it’s fine IF your average discount is equal to or better than what you were promised.

Reality is, very few workers’ comp payers review their PBM’s bills to make sure that the average discount is what they were promised. 

Workers’ comp insurers and TPAs audit claims, case management performance, reserves, bill review, hospital bills, network discounts, legal bills…pretty much everything BUT pharmacy.

The Russians said it best.

That is NOT to say PBMs purposely mess with the numbers/bills/codes to increase their reimbursement. Rather, like any entity, mistakes can be made, lapses occur, updates lag.

Unfortunately, in the audits we’ve seen these errors usually benefit the PBM.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re looking to ensure you’re paying what you should, let’s talk.


May
10

Explaining pharmacy pricing, part 3

Here’s the thing about “list” prices for drugs – the more accurate definition of AWP is “Ain’t What’s Paid.”

The REAL price is what is paid AFTER rebates and other discounts are applied.

That’s why the current media frenzy over drug prices is just dumb; it doesn’t account for the impact of rebates on the actual price you pay.

Reality is, actual prices paid for brand drugs went up by a measly 0.3% in 2018. Consumers benefited from rebate sharing as well, as the average price they paid for brand drugs didn’t go up last year.

That said, the fastest growing part of drug spend is specialty medications, drugs that are injected or for critical diseases such as cancer, hepatitis C, HIV, and autoimmune diseases.

Specialty medications only accounted for 2.2% of all prescriptions, but almost half of total drug spend.

What does this mean for you?

  • Across the board, drug price increases are negligible…for those payers that capture rebates.
  • Rebates are key – if you are not capturing rebates, the price you pay for brand drugs is much higher than it could/should be.
  • Pay very close attention to specialty meds.

IQVIA has an excellent and quite detailed report on drug price and utilization trends – available here.


May
6

It’s work comp pharmacy week at MCM

And to kick it off, here are quick facts about work comp pharmacy…

Total workers’ comp drug spend was about $4 billion last year.  Others will argue it’s much higher, after 15 years of digging into the data I’m quite comfortable that figure is accurate.

That’s about 13% of total work comp medical spend  of $31 billion (using NASI’s industry-standard report as the source).

Work comp drug spend has been steadily – and significantly – decreasing for the last eight+ years; my best estimate is drug costs are down about $1.1 billion since 2010.

This remarkable drop has been driven by dramatic decreases in opioid usage and fee schedule changes; PBM consolidation has also been a driver as PBM pricing has declined over the last several years.

Today there are two major WC PBMs, two mid-tier ones, and a host of much smaller companies with little market share.

In 2017, opioid spend declined to less than a quarter of total drug costs, driven by a 30% drop over the previous two years. The even-better news is patients not taking opioids also don’t need to take drugs to mitigate the side effects; insomnia, depression, constipation, erectile dysfunction, etc. And, the knock-on effects on claim duration and settlements are positive indeed.

You can download CompPharma’s latest PBM in WC report here,  all of our 15 surveys are available here.

Tomorrow we’ll dig into pricing and what’s real – and what isn’t – in the media’s coverage of drug pricing.


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.