Prescription Insurance: Why Are Costs Rising?

MedCost pharmacistBy Zafeira Sarrimanolis, PharmD, MedCost Clinical Consultant

Prescription insurance has become an increasingly major cost for employers. New drug approvals by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are expected to escalate this year with multiple innovative drugs already being approved for cancer, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.

As researchers discover more treatments, costs will continue to climb. For this reason, smart management of pharmacy plans will be even more vital for employer health plans.

2017 Drug Pipeline

2016 saw a below average number of drug approvals. 2017 is expected to bounce back with 30+ new specialty drugs.

Specialty medications are high-cost prescription drugs used to treat complex conditions. The blue bar (below) shows specialty medication drug approvals. The green bar represents traditional brand and generic drugs. Technology, innovation and new scientific discoveries have caused specialty medication drug approvals to rapidly increase over the last few years.

prescription insurance

Growth of Novel Drugs in Prescription Insurance

In 2016, 22 novel drugs were approved, which was the lowest number since 2010. A novel drug is an innovative product with a unique chemical structure that has never been approved by the FDA before.  Typically novel drugs meet an unmet medical need.

prescription insurance As of May 5th, 20 novel drugs have already been approved this year. It’s an exciting time for healthcare as we treat more complex conditions and improve member health and quality of life.

But it comes at a cost – literally.

 

Summary

When 1% of prescriptions drive 40-45% of an employer’s pharmacy spend, avoiding wise management is no longer optional. Part of my role as a MedCost Pharmacist is to emphasize the importance of cost-management strategies to our employers and consultants.

prescription insurance

I also work closely with our clients to help employers understand the importance of educating their employees about these changes and why they are needed.

It’s all about making sure each employee gets the right drug for the right medical condition at the right time. That’s how we control pharmacy costs.MedCost


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10 Pharmacy Terms Employers Need to Know

MedCost pharmacistBy Zafeira Sarrimanolis, PharmD, MedCost Clinical Consultant

Pharmacy terms in health plans can be confusing. Employers must understand their pharmacy plans, especially in this era of rising drug costs.

As a pharmacist, I help MedCost clients navigate their Pharmacy Benefit Manager and identify opportunities for cost-saving in their company health plans. Here are some terms employers need to know when determining prescription drug benefits for their health plan.

1. Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM)

An organization that develops and maintains preferred drug lists, contracts with pharmacies, and negotiates discounts and rebates with drug manufacturers. PBMs also process and pay prescription drug claims in addition to implementing strategies that save pharmacy plan dollars, while improving member health.

2. Formulary 

A prescription drug list that is preferred by a health insurance plan. Identifies medications available to treat certain medical conditions and organizes into tiers.

3. Tiers

Different cost levels a member pays for a medication. A tier 1 medication is generally generic and lower-cost, while higher-cost brand name medications fall in Tier 2 or 3.

pharmacy terms4. Brand-name drug

Developed, patented and sold exclusively by a pharmaceutical manufacturer.

5. Generic drug

Manufactured and sold after the brand-name patent has expired. For example, Tylenol® is a brand-name medication and acetaminophen is its generic equivalent. Generics promote competition and drive down drug costs. Almost 80% of prescription drugs sold in the US are generics.

6. Specialty drug

A high-cost, prescription drug that treats complex conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer or multiple sclerosis. These drugs typically have special storage requirements, administration techniques and require specific monitoring. Specialty drugs may account for up to 45% of a plan’s total drug costs.

7. Exclusion

A drug or service not paid for by a health plan.

8. Rebates

Money paid by manufacturers after drug purchases, as part of negotiations with payers (insurance companies, PBMs, benefits administrators, Medicare). Rebates cut about $40 billion from drug sales annually (see examples).

pharmacy terms9. Prior authorization

Requires a doctor to provide additional clinical information to determine coverage of the prescription drug under the plan.

10. Step therapy

Trying a lower-cost, clinically-similar drug before a higher-cost drug for the same medical condition is allowed under the plan.

Summary

Step therapies and prior authorizations feel disruptive to employees. For that reason, employers are faced with the challenge of balancing employee satisfaction with cost containment.

Our clients are seeing significant results using preferred formularies and these cost-saving strategies. One group avoided expenses of over $250,000 in the first months after adopting a managed approach with one of our PBM vendors.

The goal is to ensure the right people get the right drug for the right medical condition at the right time.  With our PBM partners, we work to ensure that our members are utilizing safe, clinically-appropriate, cost-effective treatments. Employers can partner with their employees to become better healthcare consumers so everyone benefits in the use of prescription drugs.

7 Ways to Manage Medical Cost for Employers (Infographic)

medical cost

*Discover more resources about MedCost Care Management programs hereOr browse through seven ways to manage medical cost:

  1. Complex Case Management 
  2. Inpatient Management
  3. Outpatient Management
  4. Telehealth Services
  5. Nurse Health Coaching
  6. Maternity Management
  7. Behavioral Health

To print this infographic, click on the title and scroll to “PRINT THIS PAGE” at the bottom.MedCost

House Republicans Introduce Health Care Reform Legislation

health reformBy Brad Roehrenbeck, General Counsel & VP, Legal Services, Compliance

On Monday, House Republicans unveiled the long-awaited legislation intended to overhaul former President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The bill, titled the American Health Care Act (AHCA), would make major changes to the ACA that impact individuals, employers, insurers, and providers in significant ways, as summarized below.

Provisions Impacting Employer-Sponsored Coverage

The most significant development impacting employers under the proposed law is removal of the employer mandate.

  • Large employers would no longer face penalties for failing to offer coverage that meets the minimum value and minimum essential coverage requirements of the ACA. 
  • Additionally, the proposed bill would repeal the widely unpopular excise tax on high-cost coverage (the so-called Cadillac Tax) and offer tax credits to small businesses for providing coverage to employees. 
  • The law would also require employers to indicate on Form W2 the months of coverage each employee was eligible for coverage. (Note: It appears the legislation is intended also to eliminate the ACA’s annual employer 1094/1095 reporting under Section 6056 of the Code. That would be a natural by-product of the employer mandate repeal, but the bill does not appear to eliminate this obligation expressly. This may be addressed in a future amendment to the bill.) 

Changes to Account-Based Plans

health reformThe AHCA would make some significant changes to the rules governing HSA accounts for the first time since 2004.

  • The bill would increase the annual HSA contribution limit to equal the out-of-pocket maximum amount established for that year under the HSA rules (currently $6,550 for self-only coverage and $13,100 for family coverage).
  • The rules would also be modified to allow both spouses (if over 55) to make “catch-up” contributions to the same HSA account.
  • Also, a new special rule would allow HSA account holders to use HSA funds to pay for health care services performed up to 60 days prior to the account being established.
  • The bill would also reduce the excise tax on distributions not used for medical expenses from 20% to 10%.
  • Finally, the AHCA would remove the ACA’s cap on contributions to health FSA plans.

Changes to the Individual Market

While leaving in place popular provisions of the ACA such as the requirements that insurers cover dependents up to the age of 26 and pre-existing conditions, the AHCA would otherwise significantly redesign the ACA’s changes to the individual market.

  • First, the bill does away with the individual mandate and repeals the cost-sharing subsidies and premium tax credits made available under the ACA to individuals who enroll in coverage on the exchanges.
  • In turn, the AHCA puts in place refundable tax credits that individuals could use to defray the cost of coverage, including coverage outside the exchanges.
  • Like under the ACA, these tax credits are eligible for advance payment. The amount of the credits will vary based on age and income, and excess payments can be deposited directly into an HSA account.
  • Tax credits are not available for any coverage that includes abortion services.

health reformIn place of the individual mandate, to incentivize individuals to maintain coverage, the bill provides for increased premiums (30% for 12 months) for individuals who have had a gap in coverage of at least 63 days.

  • The bill also creates the “Patient and State Stability Fund,” which provides significant payments to states ($10 to $15 billion per year through 2026) to help stabilize the individual and small group insurance markets and to assist high-risk patients.
  • Also, beginning in 2020, the ACA’s requirements around essential health benefits will sunset.
  • Finally, the bill allows carriers greater flexibility to vary premiums based on age by up to a 5:1 ratio, up from 3:1 under the ACA.

Changes in the Medicaid Program

Unsurprisingly, the AHCA would repeal the ACA’s expansion of the Medicaid program.

  • It would also put into place a per-capital allotment of federal Medicaid dollars to the states, which is expected to rein in the future federal financial commitment to the program.
  • Similar to other provisions, the bill would bar Medicaid dollars from being used on abortion providers.
  • It would also require states to disenroll high-dollar lottery winners and incentivize states to assess participant eligibility on a more frequent basis. (Note: The bill will also reverse major cuts to the Medicare Disproportionate Share Hospital program, which provides safety net funding to more than 3,000 hospitals that disproportionately treat indigent patients).

Repeal of ACA Taxes

Finally, the AHCA would repeal numerous taxes—in addition to the Cadillac Tax discussed above—that either have gone into effect or are expected to become effective under the ACA.

  • Among those are:
    • The insurer tax (effectively a federal insurance premium tax),
    • The prescription medication tax,
    • The tax on over-the-counter medications,
    • The medical device tax.
    • It would also eliminate taxes on high-income earners that were levied under the ACA to help pay for the law.

health reformRepublicans have signaled an aggressive timeline for deliberations on the law. Committee hearings are expected to take place immediately, and the bill could reach the floor of the House in as little as one week.

President Trump has forecasted that he would like to sign the bill by Easter. We will continue to monitor developments, including any changes in the bill as it moves through the legislative process.MedCost

This blog post should not be considered as legal advice.

Four Corporate Ideas for Employee Wellness Programs

Stories of Success

If you’re one of the 80% of employers who have offered employee wellness programs and information,[i] you may be searching to see what is working at other companies. Developing a culture of wellness can decrease sick leave absenteeism by an average 28%, and workers’ compensation and disability costs by an average 30%.[ii]

employee wellness programs

How can you increase your employees’ job satisfaction and overall health, while saving hard-earned health care dollars? Here are four power ideas for more successful employee wellness programs

1. Offer Choices.

One size does not fit all in employee wellness programs,” said Crystal Spicer, MedCost Human Resources Manager. As a company offering financial and health solutions for employer benefit programs, clients were asking what wellness outreach MedCost was doing for their own employees.

The MedCost HR team realized that what worked for one employee didn’t necessarily fit another. So the company’s wellness committee designed a point-based program with multiple ways to boost health and earn financial incentives.

The annual program, kicked off in 2016, measured points earned for employee wellness activities on a quarterly and a yearly basis. This chart shows multiple ways that MedCost employees could earn points for the financial incentives at year’s end:

employee wellness programs

“We got people’s attention, which is what we were striving for,” said Crystal. One group of women came to work an hour early to walk together – even climbing stairs.

A Weight Watchers group cosponsored by the company attracted 20 people. Sherry lost 56 pounds. Glenn lost 36. Trish, motivated on her own, lost 40. And their new habits of exercising and eating helped them keep it off.

MedCost offered $100 drawings quarterly for those who met point goals. At the end of 2016, those who accrued the 2,400 points will receive a $500 contribution into their personal Health Savings Account.[iii] Employees enrolled in a Preferred Provider Organization plan could earn a gift card for $250.

Fitness classes offered after work onsite were another way to add points. The company shared costs with employees who signed up for the six-week classes. From the beginning, classes were well-attended.

Financial incentives are effective for successful employee wellness programs. Four out of five employers use financial incentives to promote wellness.[iv]

“Getting buy-in is key,” said Crystal. “Earning these financial incentives are obtainable because there are a whole variety of ways to get there.

2. Incorporate Employee Suggestions

employee wellness programs

Figure 1. Several MedCost employees at the 2016 Heart Walk

Our annual support of the Triad American Heart Association’s walk hit new levels this year – and not just financially. Jenny implemented a leadership contest to raise the most employee contributions, with the winner earning the right to wear this Southern Lady hat, red beads and tutu (See Figure 1).

Brad (in the lovely hat and tutu) definitely stood out in the crowd of 7,500 walkers through downtown Winston-Salem.

But even better were the 125 employees, family members and friends who walked between one to four miles on October 29th. Dogs, babies in strollers, music and laughter made this emphasis on healthy hearts a lot of fun.

Another employee suggestion resulted in a weekly “Walk with Me Wednesday” event, beginning in 2015. MedCost is located in a business park with sidewalks, gazebos and ponds. An average six to eight employees walk 15 minutes together at noon, enjoying fresh air, camaraderie and exercise in a beautifully landscaped setting.

employee wellness programs

Figure 2. MedCost on Kimel Park Drive, Winston-Salem, NC

One key benefit of this weekly walk is better connectivity among the employees who walk together. In many businesses, department knowledge is often siloed from other departments because of different functions. And employees don’t get to know each other.

“The walks really do benefit the mind as well as the body,” said Karen, a 16-year employee at MedCost. “Walking with others just motivates me to get out and walk.”

 

3. Take a Long-Term Approach to Your Return on Investment (ROI)

“Looking purely at hard costs, healthcare spending can be one of the largest single expenses for a business, next to payroll,” said Dan Birach, president of HEALTHWORKS division at Carolinas HealthCare System. [v]

“Statistics show that for every dollar an employer invested in areas such as wellness programming and disease management, they enjoyed an ROI of anywhere from $1.50 to $3.80. Healthy employees are more productive and miss fewer days.”

The Society for Human Resource Management reported that 80% of employers offered preventive wellness services and info in 2015.[vi]

Employee wellness programs are having an impact on reduced dollars spent on health benefits. When corporate wellness programs were implemented:

  • Claims costs reduced 28%
  • Doctor visits reduced 17%
  • Hospital admissions reduced 63%
  • Disability costs were down 34%
  • Incidence of injury reduced 25%[vii]

“A wellness program can make just a small difference at first,” said Crystal. “It has to build gradually.”

Employers offering wellness programs are looking for the same key ingredient for their employees – motivation.

4. Motivate Your Employees for Better Quality of Life

employee wellness programs

Figure 3. Claudia Johnson before losing weight

Claudia works with providers (hospital systems, medical offices and other professionals) at MedCost. When doctors diagnosed medical issues exacerbated by her obesity, she took a hard look at her lifestyle. And wanted to change.

“I am involved in Christian ministries in my personal life,” Claudia said. “I wanted to be in better health. My family and friends supported me to make some new choices.”

MedCost wellness choices inspired Claudia to do things differently. In January of 2016, she braved the cold temperatures to begin walking every morning at 7:30 a.m. with several other employees. She climbed stairs at lunch. She focused on her health.

“I’ve lost 30 pounds,” Claudia said. “I love the fact that I have gone from a size 22 to a size 18. My grandchildren are ten and six. I have to get rid of some more of this weight to keep up with them.”

employee wellness programs

Figure 4. Claudia Johnson after losing 30 pounds

Summary

Inspire your employees. Fit your wellness program to your unique business style and culture. One size won’t fit all, so try different ideas to see what resonates with your employees.

Above all, pour on the encouragement. Your employees are spending a large chunk of their time working for you. Your support may not only boost your bottom line, but improve your employees’ health in a life-changing way.

Your company will produce not only satisfied customers, but loyal, healthier employees.MedCost

 

 

[i] “Eight Things You Need to Know about Employee Wellness Programs,” Alan Kohll, Forbes, April 21, 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2016/04/21/8-things-you-need-to-know-about-employee-wellness-programs/2/#4097a3e13e2d

[ii] “Be Stronger, Live Better,” National Association of Health Underwriters Education Foundation, http://www.nahueducationfoundation.org/materials/WellnessBrochure.pdf

[iii] For those enrolled in a High Deductible Health Plan with the company.

[iv] Incentives for Workplace Wellness Programs,” RAND Corporation, http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9842.html

[v]  “Five Things to Consider When Planning Your Wellness Program,” Dan Birach, HEALTHWORKS Division, Carolinas HealthCare System,  http://www.carolinashealthcare.org/medical-services/prevention-wellness/employer-solutions/healthworks/info-hub

[vi] Kohll, ibid.

[vii] National Association of Health Underwriters Education Foundation, ibid.

Dementia Declines in US Seniors, Study Finds

dementiaA new study finds that the prevalence of dementia has fallen sharply in recent years, most likely as a result of Americans’ rising educational levels and better heart health, which are both closely related to brain health.

Dementia rates in people over age 65 fell from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012, a decline of 24 percent, according to a study of more than 21,000 people across the country published Monday in The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.

“It’s definitely good news,” said Dr. Kenneth Langa, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and a coauthor of the new study. “Even without a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or a new medication, there are things that we can do socially and medically and behaviorally that can significantly reduce the risk.”

The decline in dementia rates translates to about one million fewer Americans suffering from the condition, said John Haaga, director of behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the new study.

Dementia is a general term for a loss of memory or other mental abilities that’s severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease, which is believed to be caused by a buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain, is the most common type of dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and occurs after a stroke.

dementiaThe new research confirms the results of several other studies that also have found steady declines in dementia rates in the United States and Europe. The new research provides some of the strongest evidence yet for a decline in dementia rates because of its broad scope and diverse ranges of incomes and ethnic groups, Haaga said. The average age of participants in the study, called the Health and Retirement Study, was 75.

The study, which began in 1992, focuses on people over age 50, collecting data every two years. Researchers conduct detailed interviews with participants about their health, income, cognitive ability and life circumstances. The interviews also include physical tests, body measurements and blood and saliva samples.

While advocates for people with dementia welcomed the news, they noted that Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss remain a serious burden for the nation and the world.  Up to five million Americans today suffer from dementia, a number that is expected to triple by 2050, as people live longer and the elderly population increases.

The number of Americans over age 65 is expected to nearly double by 2050, reaching 84 million, according to the U.S. Census. So even if the percentage of elderly people who develop dementia is smaller than previously estimated, the total number of Americans suffering from the condition will continue to increase, said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach, medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Alzheimer’s is going to remain the public health crisis of our time, even with modestly reduced rates,” Fargo said.MedCost

(Kaiser Health News, Liz Szabo, November 21, 2016)

Employee Deductibles Rise Faster Than Wages

ks110111-medEmployer health insurance expenses continued to rise by relatively low amounts this year, aided by moderate increases in total medical spending but also by workers taking a greater share of the costs, new research shows.

Average premiums for employer-sponsored family coverage rose 3.4% for 2016, down from annual increases of nearly twice that much before 2011 and double digits in the early 2000s, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

But 3.4% is still faster than recent economic growth, which determines the country’s long-run ability to afford health care.

And the tame premium increases obscure out-of-pocket costs that are being loaded on employees in the form of higher deductibles and copayments. Another new study suggests those shifts have prompted workers and their families to use substantially fewer medical services.

For the first time in Kaiser’s annual survey, more than half the workers in plans covering a single person face a deductible of at least $1,000. Deductibles for family plans are typically even higher.

Deductibles are what consumers pay out of pocket before the insurance kicks in. Employers sometimes contribute to pre-tax accounts to help workers pay such costs.

Employers have been flocking to high-deductible plans in recent years, arguing that exposure to medical costs makes consumers better shoppers.wingeddollar-sm

It also saves employers money. Having workers pay more out of pocket shaved half a percentage point off premium increases of employer-sponsored plans in each of the past two years, Kaiser researchers calculated.

Since 2011, the average deductible for single coverage has soared 63%, according to the survey, while workers’ earnings have gone up by only 11%.

Microsoft PowerPoint - 20160825 Cumulative Slides [Read-Only]

 

 

(Kaiser Health News, Jay Hancock and Shefali Luthra, September 14, 2016)

 

Federal Study Helps Seniors Stay at Home

seniors stay homeA federally-funded project that researchers say has potential to promote aging in place began by asking low-income seniors with disabilities how their lives at home could be better, according to a study released Wednesday.

At the end of the program, 75% of participants were able to perform more daily activities than they could before and symptoms of depression also improved, researchers said in the journal Health Affairs. 

Called Community Aging in Place, Advancing Better Living for Elders, or CAPABLE for short, the program was funded by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation.

The seniors who took part were each paired with a team for five months that included an occupational therapist, who made six visits; a registered nurse, who made four; and a handyman, who worked a full-day at the participant’s home installing assistive devices and doing repairs, according to the study.

The nurses and therapists helped participants identify three achievable goals for each member of the team and identify what barriers had to be overcome. For example, the therapist might survey a house for safety issues such as unsafe flooring, poorly lit entrances and railings in disrepair.

seniors stay homeThe therapist then worked with the elderly person to identify assistive devices, repairs or modifications that could help achieve the participant’s goals. Next, the therapist created a work order for the handyman that prioritized those goals within a $1,300 budget for each dwelling.

Spending on assistive devices and home repairs ranged from $72 to $1,398 for each participant, the researchers said.

They studied 234 adults older than 65 who participated in CAPABLE, all eligible for both Medicare, the government health insurance plan for seniors, and Medicaid, the government health insurance plan for low-income people.

All participants had trouble with routine tasks in a group of eight known as activities of daily living. They include bathing, dressing, using the toilet and walking across a small room. On average, participants had trouble with 3.9 tasks at the start, but improved to just two by the end of the program.

Researchers said they could not conclude that the participants’ improvements were due to the CAPABLE program because the project was funded without a control group to make scientific comparisons.

(Kaiser Health News, Rachel Bluth, September 7, 2016)
KHN

 

The Life-Saving Resource Ignored After Heart Attacks

childrens hospital readmissionsCHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Mario Oikonomides credits a massive heart attack when he was 38 for sparking his love of exercise, which he says helped keep him out of the hospital for decades after.

While recovering, he did something that only a small percentage of patients do: He signed up for a medically supervised cardiac rehabilitation program where he learned about exercise, diet and prescription drugs.

“I had never exercised before,” said Oikonomides, 69, who says he enjoyed it so much he stayed active after finishing the program.

Despite evidence showing such programs substantially cut the risk of dying from another cardiac problem, improve quality of life and lower costs, fewer than one-third of patients whose conditions qualify for the rehab actually participate. Various studies show women and minorities, especially African Americans, have the lowest participation rates.

“Frankly, I’m a little discouraged by the lack of attention,” said Brian Contos, who has studied the programs for the Advisory Board, a consulting firm used by hospitals and other medical providers.

ManWithHeartNow, though, advocates say cardiac rehab may gain traction, partly because the federal health care law puts hospitals on a financial hook for penalties if patients are readmitted after cardiac problems. Studies have shown that patients’ participation in cardiac rehab cut hospital readmissions by nearly a third and saved money.

The law also creates incentives for hospitals, physicians and other medical providers to work together to better coordinate care.MedCost

(Kaiser Health News, Julie Appleby, August 31, 2016)

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