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April 20, 2016

Physician Dispensing Skirts Controls

Summary:

Skirting the goals of state reforms, physician dispensing is increasing for new formulations of drugs that carry higher prices.

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A new report from the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) found evidence of frequent physician dispensing of new drug strengths and a new formulation at much higher prices. This phenomenon was observed in several states that recently instituted reforms aimed at reducing the prices for physician-dispensed prescriptions. Skirting the goals of those reforms, dispensing increased for new formulations of drugs that carried higher prices. That trend led to substantial increases in average prices for some common physician-dispensed drugs.

“When prices are reduced by regulation, the regulated parties―in this case physician-dispensers―sometimes find new ways to retain the higher revenues they had prior to the reforms,” said Dr. John Ruser, president and CEO of WCRI. “The results raise questions about the effectiveness and sustainability of the price-focused reforms. The study also provides lessons for those states where physician dispensing is permitted.”

See Also: Novel Controls on Physician Dispensing

This report, Physician Dispensing of Higher-Priced New Drug Strengths and Formulation, is part of a series of WCRI studies that examine the effects of regulatory or legislative changes to the rules governing reimbursement for physician-dispensed prescriptions. In the past decade, many states in the U.S. have enacted reforms to cap prices paid to physicians by tying the maximum reimbursement amount to the average wholesale price (AWP) set by the original manufacturer of the drug. However, new strengths and formulations of drugs are labeled as being made by generic manufacturers, not merely as being repackaged, a technical distinction that lets the new strengths and formulations avoid the new reimbursement rules — the generic “manufacturer” gets to set its own, much higher AWP.

The study reported several drugs that exhibited this phenomenon and highlighted several states where physician dispensing of these new drug products was prevalent. Take cyclobenzaprine, a muscle-relaxant. The 7.5-milligram new strength was not seen in the market until 2012. For many years, the most common strengths were 5 and 10 milligrams. The manufacturer of this new strength assigned a new AWP, which was much higher than the AWPs for the 5- and 10-milligram products. Below are some examples from the study of the frequent physician dispensing of higher-priced new strengths.

  • California: The average prices paid to physicians for cyclobenzaprine of 5 and 10 milligrams ranged from $0.38 to $0.39 per pill in the first quarter of 2014. The 7.5-milligram product, introduced in 2012 and almost always dispensed by physicians, cost $3.01 per pill in the same quarter. The percentage of physician-dispensed cyclobenzaprine prescriptions that were for the 7.5-milligram strength increased from 0% prior to 2012 to 55% in the first quarter of 2014.
  • Florida: The average prices paid for physician-dispensed cyclobenzaprine of 5 and 10 milligrams were $1.75 and $1.29 per pill, respectively, in the first quarter of 2014. The 7.5-milligram new strength was seen prior to Florida’s 2013 reform, but the frequency of dispensing increased substantially post-reform—from 16% in the pre-reform second quarter of 2013 to 49% in the first quarter of 2014. When physicians dispensed the 7.5-milligram new-strength product, they were paid an average of $4.11 per pill.
  • Illinois: The average prices paid to physicians for cyclobenzaprine of 5 and 10 milligrams were $1.55 and $1.25 per pill, respectively, in the first quarter of 2014. Prior to Illinois’ 2012 reforms, the 7.5-milligram new strength was rarely seen in the market, but, by the first quarter of 2014, 22% of all physician-dispensed cyclobenzaprine prescriptions were for the new strength. When physicians dispensed the new strength, they were paid on average $3.86 per pill.
  • Tennessee: Ten-milligram cyclobenzaprine was the most-commonly dispensed drug strength by physicians in the state, which cost $1.08 per pill on average in the first quarter of 2014. The 7.5-milligram product was not seen in the initial post-reform quarters until the fourth quarter of 2013. By the first quarter of 2014, 19% of physician-dispensed cyclobenzaprine prescriptions were for the 7.5-milligram new strength. When physicians dispensed the new strength, it cost $3.97 per pill on average.

The data used for this report came from payers that represented 31–70% of all medical claims across 22 states studied and covered detailed prescriptions based on calendar quarter from the first quarter of 2012 though the first quarter of 2014. The 22 states in the study are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

To purchase this study, visit here.

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About the Author

Ramona Tanabe is executive vice president and counsel at the Workers Compensation Research Institute in Cambridge, MA. Tanabe oversees the data collection and analysis efforts for numerous research projects, including the CompScope Multistate Benchmarks.

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