Tag Archives: cwci

Would a Formulary Help in California?

Introducing a closed pharmaceutical formulary into California workers’ compensation could produce two main benefits. The first is to further lower the cost of pharmaceuticals by either restricting or eliminating certain medications. The second is to reduce the possibility of drug addiction.

An October 2014 California Workers’ Compensation Institute (“CWCI”) report titled, “Are Formularies a Viable Solution for Controlling Prescription Drug Utilization and Cost in California Workers’ Compensation” states that pharmaceutical costs could be reduced by 12%, or $124 million, by introducing the Texas workers’ compensation pharmaceutical formulary.

To achieve the second benefit, an assembly member introduced AB1124 to establish an evidence-based medication formulary and wrote, “The central purpose of our workers’ comp system is to ensure injured workers regain health and get back to work. When workers get addicted to dangerous medications, goals of the program are not met. An evidence-based formulary has proven to be an effective tool in other states and should be considered in California.”

To confirm whether these benefits could be achieved through the introduction of the Texas formulary, a review of the CWCI study and the opioid medications available under the Texas formulary was conducted. The findings, summarized below, suggest that the answer is no.

Although California does not restrict or limit medications in treating injured workers, it does limit the prices paid and provides an opportunity to question prescribed medications that appear to be out of the ordinary. Medi-Cal prices (California’s Medicaid health care program) are used for establishing the maximum prices for workers’ compensation medications, in contrast to states such as Texas, which use the average wholesale price (AWP).

A review of two cost-saving examples that referenced specific medications calculated projected savings based on CWCI’s ICIS payment data for prescriptions paid between Jan. 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013.

The first example compared 50mg Tramadol prices from five different suppliers. The highest was $190, followed by $23, $18, $12 and $8 per script. Here, CWCI suggested that the manufacturer of the highest-priced script be removed from the California formulary. From mid 2009 through 2013, however, the unit price for 50mg Tramadol from the supplier of brand name Ultram and at least 10 other suppliers in California was nine cents, so the AWP for a script was $2. So, overpaying for medications is an issue even if the $190 supplier is removed.

The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) also reported that California claims administrators paid a unit price of 35 cents for 5mg Cyclobenzaprine and 70 cents for 10mg while the unit price from Californian suppliers was 10 cents for 10mg and 15 cents for 5mg. Again, the prices suggest that California claims administrators were paying more than the maximum prices.

Based on randomly selected manufacturers and strengths of the top 20 medications identified in the 2013 NCCI prescription drug study, California’s prices were on average 20% lower than the AWP and in some cases as little as 1/24th the cost. California prices were found to be at the lowest retail price range compared with those published on goodrx.com. Pharmacies located in Los Angeles, Miami and Dallas were used for comparison. Findings suggested employers in California workers’ compensation are paying no more than the general public for medications, whereas in Texas employers are paying more by using the AWP.

The second example compared script prices of seven opioid agonists, including Tramadol and Oxymorphone. Oxymorphone was the highest-priced script at $600 and Tramadol the lowest at $60 per script, suggesting a saving of as much as $540 if Tramadol were to be prescribed instead of Oxymorphone.

But prescribing oxymorphone when tramadol could suffice or vice versa could be regarded as an act of gross negligence by the physician. On the World Health Organization (WHO) analgesic ladder, tramadol and codeine are weak opioids regarded as “step two” while acetaminophen and NSAIDs are “step one.” “Step three” opioids include medications such as morphine, oxycodone and oxymorphone, which all differ in their pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics, so choosing one or more to treat pain becomes a balance between possible adverse effects and the desired analgesic effect. Oxymorphone (stronger than morphine or oxycodone) is recommended for use only when a person has not responded to or cannot tolerate morphine or other analgesics to control their pain.

A list of opioid medications published by Purdue Pharma was used to identify which opioids were excluded from the Texas formulary. The list of more than 1,000 opioid analgesics was prepared by Purdue to comply with the state of Vermont law 33 V.S.A. section 2005a, requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide physicians with a list of all drugs available in the same therapeutic class. Being in the same class, however, does not necessarily mean they are interchangeable or have the same efficacy or safety.

The list showed available strengths and included (1) immediate and extended release, (2) agonists such as fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, tramadol, codeine, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, tapentadol and levorphanol and (3) combinations such as acetaminophen with codeine, oxycodone with acetaminophen, oxycodone with asprin, oxycodone with ibuprofen, hydrocodone with acetaminophen, hydrocodone with ibuprofen, acetaminophen-caffeine with dihydrocodeine, aspirin-caffeine with dihydrocodeine and tramadol with acetaminophen.

It appears that extended-release medications used for around-the-clock treatment of severe chronic pain have been excluded or are not listed in the Texas formulary, with a few exceptions. For example, 80mg OxyContin (Oxycodone) ER 12 hour (AWP $18, Medi-Cal $15) is excluded. 120mg Hysingla (Hydrocodone) ER 24 hour (AWP $41, Medi-Cal $34) is not listed. However, 200mg MS Contin (Morphine) ER 12 hour (AWP $31, Medi-Cal $26) and 100mcg Fentanyl 72 hour transdermal patch in both brand name and generic forms are approved under the Texas formulary. Immediate-release generic medications such as oxycodone, hydromorphone and hydrocodone with acetaminophen in all strengths are approved, but immediate-release hydrocodone with ibuprofen and oxymorphone in either immediate or extended release are excluded.

Would the objective of AB1124 be achieved by utilizing the Texas formulary? The above review suggests it would not. All the opioid medications available through the Texas formulary have the potential to cause addiction and be abused, possibly leading to death either accidentally or intentionally. As an example, the executive director of the Medical Board of California has filed accusations against Dr. Henri Eugene Montandon for unprofessional conduct including gross negligence. His patient was found dead with three 100mcg fentanyl patches on his upper chest. The autopsy revealed he potentially had toxic levels of fentanyl, codeine and morphine in his bloodstream at time of death. These three opioids are available under the Texas formulary.

An article published on the website www.startribune.com described the challenges in treating returning soldiers from combat duty. The article discusses Zach Williams, decorated with two Purple Hearts who was found dead in his home from a fatal combination of fentanyl and venlafaxine, an antidepressant. Venlafaxine in both immediate- and extended-release form is approved in the Texas formulary. In addition, the following statement was made in a 2011 CWCI study into fentanyl: “Of the schedule II opioids included in the Institute’s study, the most potent is fentanyl, which is 75 to 100 times more powerful than oral morphine.”

The top 20 medications identified by the 2013 NCCI prescription drug study were also compared with the Texas formulary, and six medications were found to be excluded, including three extended-release opioids, OxyContin (Oxycodone), Opana ER (Oxymorphone) and the once-daily Kadian ER (Morphine). The twice-daily, extended-release morphine MS Contin, however, was approved. Flector, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory transdermal patch used for acute pain from minor strains and sprains, was excluded, as was carisoprodol a muscle relaxant classified by the DEA as a Schedule IV medication (the same as Tramadol). The Lidocaine transdermal patch, which is a local anesthetic available in both brand name and generic. was also excluded. Lidocaine patches have been found to assist in controlling pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, lower back pain and sore muscles. Apart from carisoprodol, it would appear the remaining five were excluded from the Texas formulary because of their high price rather than concerns regarding their safety or potential for abuse.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the approval of all medications in the U.S. Its approved list is the U.S. pharmacy formulary (or closed formulary). California workers’ compensation uses this list for treatment and the Medi-Cal formulary for medication pricing. In comparison, Texas workers’ compensation uses its own formulary, which is a restricted list of FDA-approved medications, and pays a higher price for approved medications than California’s system does.

Implementing an evidence-based formulary, such as in Texas, may result in an injured worker’s not having the same choice of medications as a patient being treated for pain under California’s Medicaid healthcare program. How can this be morally justified? Will we see injured workers paying out-of-pocket to receive the medications necessary to control their pain?

Claims administrators can greatly reduce pharmaceutical costs through their own initiatives by (1) ensuring that they pay no more than the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) published price for a medication, (2) ensuring that physicians within their medical provider network (MPN) treat pain using the established pharmacological frameworks such as the WHO analgesic ladder, (3) ensuring that quantities and medication strengths are monitored, along with how a person has responded to analgesics, (4) ensuring that, when controlling pain with opioids, there is a heightened awareness for potential abuse, misuse and addiction, (5) establishing a multimodal pain management regimen including non-pharmacological therapies such as acupuncture, aerobics, pilates, chiropractic and physical therapy tailored to a person’s medical condition and, (6) for chronic pain, considering introducing an Internet-delivered pain management program based on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy.

The progress of many of these initiatives can be automatically monitored through a claims administrator’s technology solution, where a yellow or red flag is raised when prices paid exceed the legislated maximum amounts, when a pharmacological step therapy or progressive plan has been breached or when non-pharmacological therapy goals have not been achieved.

Using these initiatives, as opposed to restricting specific manufacturers or medications through a closed formulary, will undoubtedly yield a far better outcome for the injured worker and lower the cost to the employer, benefiting all involved.

How to Manage MPNs in Workers’ Comp

A recent study of the use of medical provider networks ( MPNs) in California by the California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) found that, “While the use of the networks to medically manage treatment of work-related injuries has fulfilled the legislative intent to encourage network use, over time the MPNs have not lowered the cost of medical care.”

David DePaolo, CEO of WorkCompCentral, says medical cost savings is only part of the picture. MPNs need to be managed because the medical impact on other aspects of claims such as disability, indemnity, return to work and other factors is significant.

So how should networks be managed?

Networks can be managed only by evaluating and monitoring individual performance.

A network is the sum of its parts, the parts being the physicians and other medical providers. A network cannot be managed as a whole. Each individual medical provider acts independently and with differing results. Moreover, each provider, even within groups or facilities, acts independently. Consequently, each must be evaluated and managed individually.

Since networks began in workers’ comp back in the 1980s, their rationale has been that they offer discounts off stated rates for services, which they portray to payers as savings. The assumption is that all medical providers are equal. But no one checked.

No one checked because it was easier to claim savings through discounts than to evaluate the performance of individual medical providers in the network. Evaluating medical performance is especially tricky in workers’ compensation because, in addition to cost and medical treatment factors, there are elements unique to the industry that must be considered. Indicators of quality performance are many and varied.

But indicators can be found in the data. They include medical treatment indicators such as direct medical costs, prescriptions, surgery, hospitalization and medical procedures analyzed by injury type. Non-medical performance indicators that are influenced by medical providers include return to work, indemnity costs and legal involvement, along with ultimate outcome indicators such as claim closure and disability ratings at the close of the claim.

The way to manage networks is to use the data to identify the best providers and monitor their performance.

The data necessary to evaluate medical provider performance, particularly physician performance, can be found in bill review data, claims system data, pharmacy data and the utilization review system. Unfortunately, the data resides in different silos, but, by combining the data from these sources at the claim level, individual provider performance can be measured.

Because the data reflects actual treatment and events, it is objective and quantifiable. Select quality indicators in the data, adjust for case mix and keep them constant over time.

Medical costs have increased to 60% of claim costs, calling into question the benefit of network discounts. The truth is that medical providers long ago learned how to overcome the cost of discounts by increasing treatment frequency and claim duration, as well as prescribing expensive procedures, among other tactics.

Going forward, the major hurdle in managing networks effectively is to de-emphasize discounts, while underscoring and rewarding quality performance. To make that financially feasible for the networks, a different approach to discounting should be entertained. For instance, those providers who rate highest in quality performance would be excused from discounts. Likewise, those performing the worst would be discounted the most.

To manage a network, the performance of individuals within it must be evaluated and monitored continually. No longer does it suffice to sign up providers for the network and walk away. When individual provider ratings slip, action should be taken.

Let providers know they are being monitored. It has been proven that observed performance leads to behavior change.

Physician Dispensing: Costs, Consequences

At WCRI 2015, the panel of Vennela Thumula (Workers Compensation Research Institute), Dongchun Wang (WCRI) Alex Swedlow (California Workers’ Compensation Institute) and Artemis Emsilie (myMatrixx) tackled physician dispensing.

Eighteen states have made changes to their rules regarding physician dispensing, with a focus on pricing. Four states (Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida) also put limits on the timeframe in which physicians could dispense.

According to WCRI studies, the prices paid for medications dispensed by physicians decreased significantly after regulations were reformed. However, the prices paid after reforms were still significantly higher than for the same drug from a retail pharmacy.

The exception was Ilinois, which saw the costs of physician-dispensed medications increase after reforms. This appears to be because of a change in prescribing patterns as physicians shifted to reformulated medications, which reimbursed at a much higher rate. So, it was this change in prescribing patterns that caused the cost increase, not the reform bill.

Another study focused on whether physician dispensing increased opioid use. The results were somewhat inconsistent. There was an increase in pharmacy-dispensed stronger opioids, but overall the number of prescriptions for stronger opioids dropped. However, the frequency of physician-dispensed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and weaker opioids increased slightly post-reform. Overall, there appears to be a drop in the total opioid prescriptions after physician-dispensing reforms, but not as significant as you would expect.

A study by CWCI focused on whether injured workers had adequate access to retail pharmacies. Access was clearly not an issue, as almost all injured workers had multiple pharmacies within a short distance of their homes. The CWCI study also showed a greater delay in return to work and an increase in overall claims costs when there were physician-dispensed medications. This increase in costs was not simply the increased cost of medications but also increased disability and more frequent office visits.

The final speaker focused on differences between workers’ compensation and the commercial marketplace with regard to physician dispensing. The biggest difference is that on the group health side the process is integrated. The focus is on speeding the care to the patient, not increasing the overall costs. The group health physician checks the insurance formulary and drug utilization protocols prior to dispensing. In workers’ comp, these different processes are siloed. The main reason for physician dispensing in workers’ compensation is the increased profits to the physicians, not integrated speed of patient care.

Audience members reminded everyone that the focus around management of opioids needs to be mostly on the appropriateness of the medication, not who is doing the dispensing.

There was a recent New York Times article on this subject that I encourage readers of this blog to review.

An Argument for Physician Dispensing

A January 2015 Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) study that focused on three new medication strengths has again questioned the practice of physicians dispensing medications.  Some analysts argue that the new strengths are designed to skirt price controls and generate exorbitant profits for doctors and drug manufacturers and repackagers. But another explanation is possible: that doctors and drug companies have identified new strengths that patients want. In any case, competition will, over time, drive down prices on the new medications just as it did on ones that have been in the market for a long time.

The study titled, “”Are Physician Dispensing Reforms Sustainable?” prompted Michael Gavin, president of PRIUM, a subsidiary of Ameritox, to write an article titled “Physician Dispensing: I’ve Changed My Mind” on this website. He said: (1) ”that drug repackagers in California created novel dosages of certain medication to evade the constraints of the physician dispensing regulations”; (2) “allowing repackagers to create new NDC codes and charging exorbitant amounts of money for drugs that would have been substantially cheaper had they been secured through a retail pharmacy”; and (3) “Worse, utilization of these medications skyrocketed as a result of the revenue incentives for physicians (my conclusion, not WCRI’s)”.

This article analyzes the Cyclobenzaprine HCL medication, with emphasis on the new generic 7.5mg strength that was reviewed in the WCRI study and cited in the article, “Loophole for Doctors on Drug Dispensing,” that Ramona Tanabe from WCRI wrote for this website.

The 7.5mg Cyclobenzaprine HCL was first made available as a generic by the pharmaceutical company “KLE 2 Pharmaceuticals” ((www.kle2.com). The company’s mission statement reads: “It is our goal to provide new therapies via unique strengths, delivery methods and/or new formulations.” KLE 2 identified a marketing opportunity to meet the needs of those who found that the 5mg strength was not effective enough and that the 10mg was too strong. There is evidence on the Internet of people attempting to split a Cyclobenzaprine HCL tablet to reduce its strength, with limited success.

From late 2011 through early 2013, KLE 2 was the only manufacturer of the generic Cyclobenzaprine HCL 7.5mg strength, which was included in the Medi-Cal formulary and used for California workers’ compensation claims. In April 2013, the manufacturer Mylan released a generic 7.5mg strength, and it was also included in the Medi-Cal formulary. KLE 2 has a Medi-Cal price of $3.2153 per tablet; Mylan, $3.99. The brand name “Fexmid,” by Sciele Pharma, owned by Shionogi, has a Medi-Cal price of $4.4383 per tablet.

Pharmaceutical pricing in the U.S. is unregulated; the more manufacturers there are, the lower the price to the consumer. In the case of the 7.5mg strength Cyclobenzaprine HCL, there are currently only two manufacturers, so the price will remain high until more manufacturers produce this strength or there is less demand for it. The 10mg strength, in comparison, has currently around 17 manufacturers. The average Medi-Cal price for 10mg is $0.1035. The lowest Medi-Cal price is $0.0468, from the manufacturer KVK Tech. (Refer to page 7 of “Understanding Pricing of Pharmaceuticals,” available here under the Dialogue tab, for a Medi-Cal price comparison of 10mg Cyclobenzaprine HCL).

The 5mg strength is manufactured by about 11 pharmaceutical companies. The average Medi-Cal price is $0.1586 — that is down from Mylan’s price of $1.3616 in 2006. The current lowest Medi-Cal price for a 5mg strength tablet is $0.0468, again from KVK Tech.

I mentioned earlier that attempts to split either a 5mg or 10mg tablet in half have not been successful. It has been well documented that the coating applied to the 5mg and 10 mg Cyclobenzaprine HCL tablets does not allow them to be easily cut, regardless of the device used. The opportunity therefore for cutting a 5mg in half to take 1½ tablets of 5mg of Cyclobenzaprine HCL and accurately administer a strength of 7.5mg is not possible. The release of the 7.5mg strength addresses this need.

Although the 5mg, 10mg and now 7.5mg strengths are the most commonly dispensed Cyclobenzaprine HCL medications, there are also other strengths, such as the 15mg and 30mg extended-release capsules manufactured by Mylan, which have a Medi-Cal price of $8.7899 per capsule. There are also the brand name “Amrix” extended-release 15mg and 30mg capsules manufactured by Cephalon, a subsidiary of Teva Pharmaceuticals, which have a Medi-Cal price of $25.0163 per capsule for both strengths. These 15mg and 30mg strengths further illustrate how a lack of competition for a specific medication leads to higher prices.

Medi-Cal prices apply to all dispensers of California workers’ compensation medications, including pharmacies and physicians, and the same Medi-Cal maximum price has applied since 2007, as explained in my article, “The Paradox on Drugs in Worker’s Comp.” But the average prices paid, according to the WCRI study, are significantly higher than the Medi-Cal prices. The WCRI said prices paid for the 5mg and 10mg strengths were 35 to 70 cents a tablet, yet we find that the average Medi-Cal price was 10 cents for 10mg and 16 cents for 5mg. This discrepancy requires further clarification, because it appears that claims administrators have been paying significantly more than Medi-Cal’s maximum price.

The WCRI reported a range of between $2.90 and $3.45 for the 7.5mg strength. The $2.90 price is lower than Medi-Cal’s prices and indicates that a competitive price was paid by claims administrators.

If, as some have suggested, new strengths such as the 7.5mg are medically inappropriate, have claims administrators moved to remove the doctors who prescribe those strengths from their medical provider networks (MPNs)? Have claims administrators reported those doctors to the California Fraud Assessment Commission?

Gavin said in the second point I pulled from his article that medications dispensed by physicians cost more than those in retail pharmacies, but obtaining prices of Cyclobenzaprine HCL from a number of retail pharmacies on the website goodrx.com are higher than the average Medi-Cal price paid for the same medications to dispensing physicians. (Prices on the website can change at any time and cited here for illustration purposes only. The Medi-Cal formulary can also change at any time in both its suppliers of medications and prices paid.)

This analysis of the Cyclobenzaprine HCL medication further reinforces the need for claims administrators to be vigilant when dealing with pharmaceuticals. Let the buyer beware, too, when interpreting studies produced by organizations such as the WCRI.

The Paradox on Drugs in Workers’ Comp

Pharmaceuticals remain a large component of both total claims and medical costs in treating workers’ compensation injuries and illnesses. On the plus side, pharmaceuticals lower medical costs by decreasing demand on other health resources, improve health outcomes, including treatment safety, and provide earlier opportunities to return to work. On the negative side, prices can be very high.

States have been trying to address that negative through numerous efforts for many years, yet costs keep climbing. A study finds that a solution exists, if claims administrators become aware at the most granular level about the sources of medications and the prices that suppliers charge.

Background

Pharmaceutical pricing in the U.S. is unregulated. Pharmaceuticals are manufactured through two sources, (1) the originator (i.e. the inventor) of the medication and (2) the generic manufacturer. The originator markets the medication through a brand or trademark name and has sole marketing rights for a period. This period varies from country to country, but the norm is from five to 10 years. On expiration, generic pharmaceutical manufacturers are allowed to produce the medication and introduce price competition into the market. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) reports that generic medications account for 80% of dispensed medications in the U.S.

In an effort to control pharmaceutical pricing in California workers’ compensation, a number of legislative changes were introduced.

2002 – Claims administrators could use pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and pharmacy benefit networks (PBNs) to establish contract prices below the maximum price established by the legislature and to scrutinize prescribed medications at the time of dispensing. A reduction in pharmaceutical costs was expected, yet a report prepared by the California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) in October 2014, titled “Report to the Industry: Are Formularies a Viable Solution for Controlling Prescription Drug Utilization and Cost in California Workers’ Compensation?” showed the average pharmacy cost for the first year of treatment for an indemnity claim increased from $390 in 2002 to $430 in 2003 (an increase of more than 10%).

2004 – The pharmacy formulary (i.e. list of medications) established by California’s Medicaid welfare program, called “Medi-Cal,” was introduced into workers’ compensation. The formulary and price schedule are based on the state’s negotiated price with suppliers. By contrast, most other workers’ compensation jurisdictions use schedules based on the supplier’s average wholesale price (AWP), with a plus or minus percentage adjustment to establish the maximum price (e.g., AWP + 10% or AWP – 5%). Both the Medi-Cal price and the AWP are established before any off-invoice discounts, rebates or other incentives are applied by the pharmaceutical supplier. Price differences between Medi-Cal and the AWP can vary significantly. For example, paying the lowest Medi-Cal price of 4 cents per unit for the generic medication Meloxicam 7.5mg tablet, instead of paying the AWP, provides a saving of as much as 98%. Once again, expectations for a significant reduction in pharmaceutical costs were anticipated, but, according to the CWCI, the cost only dropped from $321 in 2004 to $282 in 2005 (a reduction of 12%), before increasing to $352 in 2006 (an increase of almost 25%).

2005 – In an effort to control total medical costs, claims administrators in California were allowed to establish their own medical provider networks (MPN). The intent of this legislation was to curtail the adversarial relationship between the medical profession and claims administrators and also provide an opportunity for establishing contract rates with physicians, below the mandated maximum prices, for both services rendered and medications dispensed. This time, the expectation was to see a reduction in costs for both medical treatments and medications dispensed by a physician. Instead, the CWCI showed an increase from $282 in 2005 to $352 in 2006 (almost 25%) and then to $412 in 2007 (a further increase of 17%).

2007 – Legislation was enacted to require that the maximum price paid for a supplier’s medication that was not listed in the Medi-Cal formulary be equivalent to similar medications listed in the Medi-Cal formulary; the prior practice was to use the supplier’s AWP to calculate the price.

The Medi-Cal formulary includes a number of suppliers providing the same medication. PBMs, PBNs and physicians dispensing medications also have formularies that may have different suppliers to Medi-Cal, especially where a large number of suppliers are involved. For example, Gabapentin is available from more than 55 suppliers, which may include the originator, the generic manufacturers and companies that repackage others’ medications in various package sizes. Hydrocodone-Acetaminophen is available from at least 45 suppliers in different strengths and package sizes.

Again, the legislation was expected to lead to a significant decrease in costs, because a number of physicians were dispensing medications from suppliers that were not listed in the Medi-Cal formulary. The cost, however, increased by almost 7%, from $412 in 2007 to $440 in 2008. This percentage increase is baffling. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), in its September 2013 report titled “Workers’ Compensation Drug Study: 2013 Update,” ranked Meloxicam as the highest physician-dispensed medication by dollars paid. By applying the Medi-Cal price, instead of the AWP, cost savings should have been as high as 98%. The savings for Tramadol HCL, the second highest ranked physician dispensed medication by dollars paid, were 89% based on the Medi-Cal price of 9 cents per unit.

So, legislation enacted in California from 2002 through 2007 provided all the means to control and curtail pharmaceutical costs. Yet, according to the CWCI, the average first year pharmaceutical cost per indemnity claim reached $953 in 2012 from $390 in 2002 (an increase of 144%).

The Study — Huge Range in Prices

This paradox initiated an independent study into pricing based on the medications listed in the NCCI report. The study identified that prices offered by manufacturers of generic medications varied significantly, and that a lack of awareness by claims administrators could be a leading factor in the high cost of pharmaceuticals in workers’ compensation. The study excluded repackagers’ prices, which are often associated with physician-dispensing. The report published from this study listed the following medications:

  • Meloxicam 7.5mg tablet — prices ranged from four cents through to $5.73.
  • Gabapentin 300mg capsule — six cents through to $1.75.
  • Lidocaine 5% transdermal patch (30 patches) — $102.98 through to $258.97.
  • Hydrocodone-Acetaminophen (“APAP”) — from 22 cents through to $2.69 per unit, depending on the strength. The price for Acetaminophen with Codeine ranged from 15 cents through to 90 cents per unit.
  • Omeprazole 20mg — from 29 cents through to 65 cents.
  • Cyclobenzaprine HCL 10mg tablet — from four cents through to $1.13.
  • Oxycodone HCL — from 23 cents through to $1.57 depending on strength.
  • OxyContin — a brand name extended release or long acting Oxycodone HCL, only manufactured by Purdue Pharma and currently under a protection period, ranged from $2.27 through to $14.51 per unit based on strength.

The Solution

For claims administrators to influence a downward trend in pharmaceutical costs associated with pricing, consideration should be given to the following initiatives:

  1. Know the suppliers of the medications in the PBM/PBN’s formulary.
  2. Compare the suppliers of the PBM/PBN’s formulary to the Medi-Cal formulary to ensure at least the lower prices available from Medi-Cal suppliers are being paid.
  3. Pay only the “no substitute allowed” price when a prescribed medication is not included in the PBM/PBN’s formulary.
  4. When an MPN’s physician dispenses medications, ensure that (a) the “no substitute allowed” price is not paid and (b) the lowest available price is paid for a medication from a supplier listed in the Medi-Cal formulary, unless a lower contracted rate is already in place within the MPN.
  5. Analyze the paid price for pharmaceuticals on at least a monthly basis to ensure the lowest price for a medication has been paid regardless of supplier and monitor medications most frequently dispensed along with their quantities to ensure PBMs/PBNs and physicians are dispensing the lowest cost medication identified in the Medi-Cal formulary, unless a lower contracted rate is already in place.

A claims administrator’s processes and technologies to manage the pharmacy vendor relationships, pre-authorizations and bill reviews must be seamlessly integrated and be able to capture data at the most granular level, which in the case of pharmaceuticals in the U.S. is the National Drug Code (NDC). Without this detailed integration, pharmaceutical costs associated with pricing will continue to increase, as illustrated in California, regardless of legislation changes enacted in the future.

The report relating to this study is available in PDF format from the website managingdisability.com under the Dialogue tab.