By William DeMarco, August 26, 2015
The competition for Pharmacy Services has become brutal as large chain stores such as Walgreens and CVS, as well as big box stores like Target and Walmart, attempt to develop exclusive service contracts with large insurance carriers and Pharmacy Management Companies (PBMs). At the same time, employers are faced with rapid increases in specialty drug costs for diseases such as Hepatitis and similar chronic illness drugs that may cost as much as $50,000 to $75,000 per year.
For example on July 24th the FDA approved a new class of cholesterol lowering drugs known as PCSK9. Many health plans were anticipating a price point of $10,000 per year, but the approval came with a recommended $14,600 annual price target. This would translate to a $6.71 per-member, per-month (PMPM) for Commercial and a $15.16 PMPM for Medicare, depending on the patients other conditions according to a Prime Therapeutics public analysis released in June.
While the clinical side of this evaluation proves these targeted drugs do work, the cost to public and private payers is changing the landscape of how employers deal with these services.
PBMs initially established a very good solution for a very complex problem by integrating costs, necessity and quality with outcomes. However, the mark up on PBM services and ability for PBMs to buy wholesale and resell retail has made some employers believe there may be better options they should consider.
In addition, the generic substitution strategy that saved employers millions in the early 1970s has worn away and generic prices are climbing - making the spending for both specialty and routine pharmacy a very large concern.
One solutions being attempted in several areas around the country is the development of an Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) like network of independent pharmacists.
In this segment of the delivery system, most pharmacies are owned by one or more families and are often one man drug stores, or represent small chains covering one or more counties. These pharmacies offer personalized service and a tradition of being a patient advocate - often providing answers to their customer's questions regarding medications, looking out for adverse reactions and communicating with the physician when a question of dosage or reaction occurs.
Organizing these smaller entities into a network with contractual obligations to a central agency that acts as a Management Services Organization (MSO), which in turn, contracts with purchasers, has employers intrigued and supportive because many of these hometown stores can also be an advocate for the employer - a resource needed more and more as value based payment emerges.
These independents not only offer dispensing, but also agree to offer Medication Therapy Management (MTM) to help the patient reconcile drugs, vitamins and even nutrition that may be playing a part in their drug therapy. Many of these stores can also offer medical appliance and durable medical equipment at less than the hospital outpatient cost. In addition, as a local provider, they are predisposed to working closely with PCPs to help introduce alternative drug therapies that may be less costly to the patient and the employer, but are just as effective as standard therapies.
Even if this connectivity is missing electronically, one can still work with purchasers to make sure the patient is adherent and getting their 30 day supply refilled on time. This can be a mutual responsibility between payer and pharmacists. The savings of substitution, the ability to control use of specialty drugs as necessary, and the coordination of care to assure adherence are all part of this new model.
Where does the PBM fit? The PBM can still process drug claims for the employer and share this with the pharmacy MSO, but it relinquishes control of the network to the employer. The employer may decide to run two networks—one of independents (the high performance network) and one of the big box and chains (the general network). If the employer really wants to test the effectiveness of the networks, they could also pay 100% of the high performance network prescription and MTM fees and 80% of the non-high performance network. This gives employees the choice but also incents new business to those who have little preference, but want to save money. It secures the patients for the local pharmacy, which creates competition for the chain stores.
Drug stores as care outlets versus retail vendors can make a very big difference in areas of managing drug costs and adherence. The leading cause of readmission to a hospital is non-adherence to drug therapy - which puts people in the ER. This is a classic example of a Preventable and Avoidable Cost (PAC) that could be better managed on an outpatient basis by having care coordinated by the pharmacists and the PCP.
While the cost of pharmacy will continue to rise as medical research promotes more effective drugs, we know employers and health plans can better manage utilization and patient experience at the delivery point of care, and that is, for many, the local home town pharmacist.