Category Archives: Prescription Drugs

Midterm Mashup

Well, the 2018 Midterm elections are over, and the analysis is beginning as to what this all means.

For those who wanted to send a message to the Russian puppet in Washington, the election meant that the House of Representatives will be controlled for the next two years starting in January by the Democrats.

For the Republicans, it means a greater control of the Senate, with at least one race, the one in my current state of Florida undecided and headed for a recount, as per state law.

However, there were many defeats for the party of Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, LBJ. JFK, Truman and FDR. Andrew Gillum lost to a nobody for governor of Florida who is connected to the Orangutan by an umbilical cord. Beto O’Rourke made a valiant, if futile effort against the worse person to hold a Senate seat, Lyin’ Ted Cruz. And a few Democratic senators lost seats in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota.

But as far as health care is concerned, the change in the leadership of the House of Representatives means that the ACA is safe for another two years. and Medicare and Medicaid will not be cut, as the Senate Majority Leader has indicated he wanted to do.

Medicaid, in particular, came out of the Midterms a little better than expected before the election, as the following posts from Healthcare Dive, Joe Paduda, and Health Affairs reported this morning.

First up, Healthcare Dive, who reported that Red states say ‘yes’ to Medicaid . Idaho, Utah, and Nebraska said yes to expansion; Montana said no.

Joe Paduda echoed that in his post, “And the big winner of the 2018 Midterms is…Medicaid“. However, Joe stated that results in Montana were not final; yet, they had decided to expand Medicaid two years ago, but the vote was temporary, and yesterday’s vote was to make it permanent.

And lastly, Health Affairs reported in “What the 2018 Midterm Elections Means for Health Care” that besides blocking repeal of the ACA, Democrats may tackle drug prices, preexisting conditions protections, Opioids, Medicare for All, Surprise bills (unexpected charges from a hospital visit). regulatory oversight, extenders such as MACRA, Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments, and Medicaid expansion, especially since gubernatorial wins in Maine, Kansas, and Wisconsin will make expansion more likely in those states.

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Utah insurer will pay for members’ travel to Mexico to fill pricey prescriptions

In an effort to combat rising drug prices, one Utah health insurer will pay its members to travel to Mexico to fill prescriptions for certain expensive drugs, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Source: Utah insurer will pay for members’ travel to Mexico to fill pricey prescriptions

Tariffs Threaten U.S. Health Care

The petulant man-child occupying the White House is proposing to impose a 25 percent tariff on Chinese products and ingredients, according to a report in the New York Times on Friday.

Some of the products and ingredients are essential to health care in the U.S. such as pacemakers, artificial joints, defibrillators, dental fillings, birth-control pills and vaccines.

In addition, dozens of drugs and medical devices are also among products targeted for the tariff. Some of them are in short supply, and dangerously so. They are epinephrine, which treats allergic reactions, and others like insulin, whose price rising has led to public outrage.

This proposed tariff has unsettled the medical device and supply industries, since a growing number of products and their components are manufactured in China.

The manufacturing of medical equipment has shifted from throwaway surgical gloves to more complicated products like MRI scanners.

An International Trade Commission in January, the Times reported, said the fastest growth in China’s medical device industry has been in sales of orthopedic devices, plates, and screws, made mostly of titanium and used for surgery and sports medicine.

One analyst, the Times continued, estimated that 12 percent of medical devices imported to the US come from China, which amounts to $3 billion a year.

A report this week by RBC Capital Markets, the article mentioned, estimated that if the tariffs took effect, this could cost the medical device industry up to $1.5 billion each year. Some of these higher costs would result in higher prices for those devices, and would affect baby boomers, who are the biggest recipients of hip and knee replacements.

This no doubt would be a boon to the medical travel industry, from the US to countries not imposing tariffs on Chinese products, or not.

Greg Crist, spokesperson for AdvaMed, the device members trade group, said its members were “disappointed because this action threatens to affect the health and well-being of American patients and those around the world, the Times article added.

While it is unclear if the tariffs would be enacted, companies have until May to lobby the administration for changes. But the man-child ratcheted up the pressure by threatening to levy tariffs on an additional $100 billion in imports.

However, analysts said that it was unclear if the tariffs would have an effect on the drug industry, even though China is a leading exporter of raw pharmaceutical ingredients, according to the article.

“We don’t see much impact,” said Umer Raffat, a pharmaceutical industry analyst for Evercore ISI on Tuesday to investors.

This is so because many generic drugs that contain Chinese ingredients are manufactured in places like India and would not be subject to the tariffs.

Yet, one trade group has sounded the alarm, the article indicated. They said that the tariffs could exacerbate the issue of health care costs as the administration is pledging to lower drug prices.

Lastly, there are two drugs on the list of 1,300 Chines exports: epinephrine and lidocaine, which are in short supply in their injectable form.

“Things are so bad right now with the injectables, we don’t need anything else to pile on, to possibly make things worse,” said Erin R. Fox, a drug-shortage expert at the University of Utah.

She also said that the tariffs could exacerbate the shortfalls of generic injectable drugs, the decades-old products that are the mainstay of hospitals and have long been in short supply due to manufacturing problems and disruptions in supply.

For some widely used products, it is unclear, according to the article, how American consumers would be affected. Insulin is one example; however, all three companies that sell insulin in the US, Lilly, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk said they did not import insulin from China.

Whatever happens with the tariffs, the effect they would have on health care here and around the world is uncertain. However, it would be prudent for those in the health care industry, the medical travel industry, and the workers’ comp industry to be aware and act accordingly to provide their patients with the drugs and devices they need.

Slight Increase in Average Medical Costs for Lost-Time Claims, Part 1

It’s that time of the year again, the time when I review the NCCI State of the Line Report.

As an added feature this year, I am including a look at the Medical Cost data, a new subject which I heard about back in February, when I attended NCCI’s 2017 Data Education Program.

First up is the distribution of medical costs by category. NCCI supports regulatory and legislative initiatives by providing State Medical Data Reports using data from their Medical Data Call.

For Service Year 2015, the distribution of payments across the various categories is based on data for all jurisdiction where NCCI provides ratemaking services, except Texas.

The key takeaway, as the following table will show, is that in 2015, physician costs were almost 40% (38%) of total medical costs, combined inpatient and outpatient hospital costs were approximately 30% (31%), and prescription drug costs were about 11%.

Table 1.

Table 1.

Source: NCCI’s State Medical Data Reports

Drilling down further, the distribution of physician costs for Service Year 2015, indicates that the bulk of the costs were associated with physical medicine, 30%, and surgery was associated with 24%, 10% associated with radiology, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2.

Table 2.

Source: NCI’s State Medical Data Reports

Getting even further, the next area the report covered was prescription drug payment changes over time.

The key takeaways here are the following:

  • In 2011, generic equivalents represented 47% of payments for all drugs prescribed. This increased to 58% by 2015, and driven largely by brand-name drugs.
  • Repackaged drugs now represent a small portion of overall drug payments because several states have implemented regulation on reimbursement.

Table 3.

Table 3.

Source: NCCI’s Medical Data Reports

NCCI analyzed the impact of prescription drug fee schedules on the cost of drugs by classifying states into one of four categories. States that had fee schedules were classified as Low, Medium, or High, based on the size of the Average Wholesale Price (AWP). The fourth category were states without a schedule.

The key takeaways here are:

  • Transitioning from not having a schedule to a low-fee schedule significantly reduces prices for WC prescriptions
  • Moving from no schedule to a high-fee schedule may increase drug costs, as shown in the following chart.

Chart 1.

Chart 1.

Source: NCCI’s Medical Data Reports

NCCI also looked at physician payments as a percentage of the Medicare reimbursement rate. In most states, they said, WC physician services are subject to fee schedules, just like the ones in group health and Medicare.

One way to measure physician costs across the states is to compare WC payments to the Medicare reimbursement rate.

The key takeaway from this is:

  • Prices paid relative to Medicare vary widely, from about 100% (Florida – 101%) to over 250%
  • Of the five jurisdictions with the largest percentage, all but Alaska (263%) are currently operating without a fee schedule
  • Countrywide the average is 150%

What does this mean for you?

While there are some positives in these numbers, especially with the cost savings from going to a low fee schedule for drugs, and an increase in the use of generic over brand-name drugs, and a decline in the percentage of repackaged drugs, medical costs are still very high for workers’ comp.

In the next post, I will look at the medical lost-time claim severity.

Big Insurer to Put Dispensing Docs on Notice

An article in Healthcare Finance yesterday reported that Aetna has put more than 900 opioid prescribing physicians on notice that they fall with the 1 percent of top opioid prescribers.

Here is the link to the article:

http://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/aetna-puts-more-900-physicians-notice-they-fall-within-top-1-percent-opioid-prescribers

What does this mean for workers’ comp?

It means that other insurers need to do the same for the physicians who prescribe opioids for injured workers, but as Joe Paduda recently reported, the drug spend is going down.

But he also said this, earlier this week,  “Medical services for people with opioid dependence diagnoses skyrocketed more than 3,000 percent between 2007 and 2014.”

This was for privately insured people, he continued.

“The dollar cost of the drug itself is the least of the cost issues; dependency is strongly associated with much higher utilization of drug testing, overdose treatment, office visits and (my assumption) higher usage of other drugs intended to address side effects of opioids.”

So just because Aetna is watching does not mean that the problem is going to go away any time soon.

Medical Management Internship Paper, Summer 2011

No doubt, many of my readers have wondered what I learned in my MHA degree program, and why my writing has been of interest to so many of you.

Upon checking my stats for the blog, I noticed that someone had viewed a paper I wrote in the summer of 2011 for my Summer Internship course, as part of my MHA degree program requirements. The school I attended required all students without a health care background to take a one-credit course as an Intern in a health care organization.

The organization I choose was one my school already contracted with, Broadspire. At the end of the course, we were expected to write a paper about our internship for a grade in the course.

The following link will direct the reader to a copy of my paper that I hope the reader will find interesting, and will highlight my skills as a researcher and writer. Speaking engagements as well as research opportunities are most welcome, as are full-time positions and consulting opportunities.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/5573hm8xo074po0/Medical%20Management%20Internship%20Paper.docx?dl=0

As the summer session was very short, only three projects were undertaken, and the last one was truncated due to time constraints and the report presented to Broadspire concentrated on only two states, Florida and California.

Let me know your thoughts.

Turbulence Ahead for Workers’ Comp Market

There may be turbulence ahead for the workers’ comp market, according to an article today on PropertyCasulty360.

The article, by Nancy Grover, says that the market can be characterized as stable, but that there are changes in the nation’s workforce, as well as technological advances, that threaten the balance of the industry. (see “Workers’ Comp Besieged: Independent Views of the Problems Workers’ Comp is Facing” and “Workers’ Comp at a Crossroads: Where Does it Go from Here?“)

Grover states that the industry’s financial outlook is positive, but that the NCCI State of the Line report earlier this year, warned that there was “calm now, but turbulence ahead”.

I will have more to say on the challenges facing workers’ compensation when I publish my second presentation slides that I may present in Mexico this December.

Among some of the challenges, Grover reports the industry is facing are increased medical costs (I have written extensively about this as well), threats to their security systems, and the changing nature of the workforce (another issue I have mentioned before, especially with regard to immigration and medical travel in the Western hemisphere).

According to one industry source she cites, medical costs are the number one cost driver (see “Lost-Time Medical Costs Approaching $30K: When Will You See the Light?“).

NCCI found that the average medical cost per lost time claim grew by 4% in 2014, which was an increase from the previous three years, where the average medical cost rose between 2 – 3%, Grover said.

Drug prices are also a cost driver, according to Joe Paduda (see “Drug Costs Make Up Bulk of Work Comp Medical Costs [Infographic]“).

“The other thing happening is facility costs for hospitals and healthcare systems are going up at or near double-digit rates for many payers and not many are paying attention”, according to Joe.(see “Outpatient Facility Costs Rising Could Benefit Medical Tourism Industry“)

There are also market threats, Grover writes, such as the “on demand” economy with companies like Uber. Lyft and others raising questions for workers’ comp industry personnel.

Unfortunately, Grover does not offer alternative solutions other than those that are being tried, and have been tried, with little or no success.

One such “solution” is medical provider networks, to closely contain costs by managing care for injured workers, but as she points out, they have not proven effective among all states.

Here is what  some in the industry really looks like to this reporter:

hear-no-evil-see-no-evil-speak-no-evil

They keep saying and doing the same things over and over again, and costs continue to rise, challenges are rushing headlong towards them, opt-out expansion threatens to destroy workers’ comp altogether, but they are deaf, dumb and blind to reality and to alternatives. One wonders if they really are like these three. They just act upon instinct and don’t have a grasp of the changes around them outside of their little space.

Oh well, evolution works in strange ways, so there is hope.