Tag Archives: gavin

Laying the Foundation for Drug Formularies

When Texas announced an 80% drop in the cost of “N” drugs prescribed for new injuries, workers’ compensation stakeholders took notice. (Medications designated as “N” in the Official Disability Guidelines are not appropriate for first-line therapy.)

Since that announcement, the implementation of a closed formulary has placed near the top of the list on several state legislative agendas. While the results being reported out of Texas are still fairly recent, the concept of a closed formulary is not a new idea in that state. Although changes in Texas’ work comp medical cost trends appear sudden, the process for achieving these was anything but.

When HB 7 was passed in 2005, it created the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) within the Texas Department of Insurance and, among other things, authorized “evidence-based, scientifically valid and outcome-focused” medical treatment guidelines and a closed formulary for prescription medications. These steps, along with the existing preauthorization and dispute-resolution processes, provided the solid regulatory infrastructure needed to implement a successful closed formulary.

The Texas Closed Formulary (TCF) requires preauthorization for medications identified as “N” drugs in the current edition of the Work Loss Data Institute’s Official Disability Guidelines (ODG). These guidelines are updated on a monthly basis to encompass new medications and new research surrounding current medications. The TCF excludes not only “N” drugs but also any compound medication that contains an “N” drug, as well as experimental drugs that are not yet broadly accepted as the prevailing standard of care.

Naturally, implementing these requirements would mean a substantial change in prescribing habits. (That was the point.) The problem was that immediate and strict implementation could mean that injured workers were suddenly denied previously prescribed medications without allowing proper time for weaning. To counter this problem, the DWC created a “legacy period” during which older claims would not yet be subject to the closed formulary, even while providers had to comply with formulary requirements when treating newly injured patients. This approach allowed providers to adapt to the new preauthorization requirements and adjust their treating habits over time in existing claims. At the same time, it ensured formulary compliance from the outset in new claims.

After the conclusion of the two-year legacy period, all claims became subject to the TCF. In effect, this legacy period was a compromise that allowed Texas to begin implementing the TCF in all of its claims without hurting patients already on long-term prescription therapy.

The first (and, to date, only) state to attempt to replicate the Texas model was Oklahoma. Oklahoma followed the Texas model closely and, in some places, added improvements. For example, while the TCF excludes all compound medications containing an “N” drug, Oklahoma’s closed formulary excludes all compound drugs, regardless of ingredients.

Unfortunately, there are also some drawbacks – the main one being limited application. Because the Oklahoma Closed Formulary is contained within the rules for Oklahoma’s new Workers’ Compensation Commission, it applies only to those cases within the commission’s jurisdiction. The commission has jurisdiction over all claims with a date of injury from Feb. 1, 2014, on. Older claims are handled by the Workers’ Compensation Court of Existing Claims, which has no closed formulary provision. This means that a doctor treating a worker who was injured on Jan. 31, 2014, and another who was injured on Feb. 1, 2014, will only have to abide by evidence-based treatment guidelines for the second worker.

While Oklahoma has adopted medical treatment guidelines and taken steps to require preauthorization, these requirements are relatively new within the Oklahoma workers’ compensation system. As a result, providers, patients and payers are still adjusting to the new system, and there has been a fair amount of confusion.

Implementing a successful closed formulary does not happen overnight. Texas started the process 10 years ago and has been consistently working to ensure that its reforms were successful. After taking the time to establish the necessary regulatory infrastructure, adopt treatment guidelines and create a logical solution to ensure a unified standard of care issue across all claims, the state is finally seeing clinical and economic benefits.

As Arkansas, California, North Carolina, Tennessee and other states start thinking about replicating the results of Texas by implementing their own closed drug formularies, they would do well to have conversations about these principles first.

This article was originally posted at: WorkCompWire.

Marijuana Case Gets Even Weirder

Of all the states, who would have guessed that New Mexico would be the hotbed of medical marijuana court decisions?  Between the Vialpando v. Ben’s Automotive in May and the Maez v. Riley Industrial case, handed down earlier this month, New Mexico’s court of appeals appears to be one of the most pro-marijuana courts in the nation.

Back in May, when I first wrote about this issue, I wondered why the reasonableness of the marijuana treatment was not questioned, and our corporate counsel told me that surely there be additional case law. Sure enough, the court in Maez decided to take on the issue.

Maez suffered from an industrial accident and was treated by Dr. Reeve.  Dr. Reeve prescribed a variety of medications, including several opioids. As required for patients on long-term opioid therapy, he performed regular urine drug tests. Maez tested positive for marijuana.

Typically, recreational marijuana use, or the use of any illicit substance, raises red flags with the prescriber. But not with Dr. Reeve!

Dr. Reeve informed Maez that, if he was going to use marijuana, he needed to have a medical marijuana license. Luckily for Maez, Dr. Reeve was happy to provide him with one. According to Dr. Reeve, “Patients are going to use cannabis either one way or the other. . . . If a patient requests that I sign [a license], I will sign it . . . but I’m not recommending . . . or in any way advocating for the use of medical cannabis.” Dr. Reeve also considers the use of medical marijuana to be the patient’s decision, “as it’s private and voluntary, and it’s not overseen by a physician.”

So the guy ended up on a medical marijuana regimen because of a failed drug test. That should be sufficient for the court to find in favor of the payer, right?

Nope.  And it gets worse.

The court went on to rationalize Dr. Reeve’s actions as reasonable, stating that “[Dr. Reeve] adopted a treatment plan based on medical marijuana. He would not have done so if it were an unreasonable treatment.”

Imagine if that logic was applied to all workers’ comp medical treatment. The doc says it’s reasonable. . . so it is. State statutes and regulations have been evolving for more than a decade to specifically counter this argument. But not in New Mexico.

And it gets even worse.

To take this determination one step further, because the physician said it is Maez’s choice whether to use medical marijuana, the court, by default, has determined that the self-directed use of marijuana by this injured worker is reasonable because the physician signed off on it.

This is patient-directed care at its absolute worst.

To recap what led to this decision: illicit drug use, perpetrated by the injured worker, condoned by the doctor and supported by a court of law.

I wish I could tell you that marijuana should be the least of your concerns, but if this is the specious logic to which we’re beholden. . . we’ll need better guidelines, better tools and better lawyers.

Physician Dispensing: I’ve Changed My Mind

In the past, I’ve argued that there are legitimate reasons a doctor might dispense medications to a patient and that legislative and regulatory efforts to curb abuses of physician dispensing should be focused on the elimination of the financial incentive to do so while preserving the practice for the limited circumstances in which it might be necessary.

I’ve changed my mind.

The WCRI report published recently makes it crystal clear that the creativity of physician dispensers will always lead to maximization of revenue (and clearly inappropriate utilization of medications) unless the practice itself is eliminated.

The report shows that, essentially, drug re-packagers in California created novel dosages of certain medications to evade the constraints of the physician dispensing regulations. This allowed them to return to the typical physician-dispensing practice of creating new NDC codes and charging exorbitant amounts of money for drugs that would be have been substantially cheaper had they been secured through a retail pharmacy. Worse, utilization of these medications skyrocketed as a result of the revenue incentive for physicians (my conclusion, not WCRI’s).

Physician dispensing doesn’t make sense. Not in any circumstances. I could see a potential allowance for a one-time, short-term fill, but the routine dispensing of medications by physicians to patients should be banned. Immediately.

(Disclosure: PRIUM, and our parent company, Ameritox, provide financial support to WCRI).