5 Ways a Pharmacy Benefit Manager can Control Prescription Costs

The cost of prescribed drugs, especially narcotic pain medications, is rising in the world of workers' compensation. This cost increase is due to the fact that a drug company is like any other company: When the demand for your product is high, supply lessens, and costs have to increase. And, these medications are not exactly cheap to manufacture. In fact I saw a news report that some cancer fighting drugs are in short supply due to overwhelming demand.
Think about going to your personal physician for a knee strain you had over the weekend playing football with your family. You probably went to your doctor, and you probably left with a prescription for Motrin buddied up with a short-term prescription for a narcotic pain reliever — even if a cold pack or hot pack and rest would have taken care of the problem. This is the world in which we live. In the past, these pain medications were for extremely acute trauma, such as a car accident or bone fracture. But more and more, medications such as Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycodone, etc are being prescribed for the slightly-above-average diagnosis of lumbar or shoulder strain. (WCxKit)
Below we discuss five ways you can try to control these associated drug costs when it comes to your workers compensation claims. By no means is this an exact science, but it is certainly one you should look into for help controlling your bottom line.
1. Come up with your game plan.

Whether you have five claims a year, or five claims per week, medication cost will be a significant expense of the claim. Many carrier/TPAs are partnering with a Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) to review prescription history and also to provide a reduced cost for medications. These outside vendors attract carrier/TPAs by offering them a discount cost for medications, in exchange for their guaranteed business.


Adjusters set claimants up with a drug card from these vendors, and they are widely accepted at many pharmacies nationwide. Furthermore, the PBM will review the injury and the claimant’s individual medication history. They can recommend medications based on the injury type and location. This is an attempt to stop every John Doe back pain sufferer from walking out of his doctor’s office with an RX for Percocet, when he really does not meet the criteria for needing that strong of a medication to begin with. Most strains can resolve by taking a stronger dose of Motrin, an anti-inflammatory medication similar to Advil or Ibuprofen. The PBM will also monitor duration of medication use and quantity limits. Why pay for 90 pills when John Doe should only need 30? Medication costs are associated with dosage as well, so it doesn’t make sense to pay for 90 pills unless they are needed.


2.  Start being aggressive at the first prescribed RX.

When a new claim is filed and the adjuster sets the drug card up to be mailed out to the employee, it may already be too late. This is when proper communication is handy. If you have a worse-than-average claim, you can phone your adjuster with the info, and they can get the PBM info right to the claimant.


This way they are not getting medication from an occupational clinic or hospital, where the costs are typically the highest. Right off the bat they can use the PBM card, and that reduces cost right from the beginning. This also helps manage future spending on RXs, since they already have the card and should be using it for any medication the claimant is prescribed. Sure, not using the card for your first medication fill is no big deal if you only have one or two claims per year, but if you have one or two claims per week, over the course of a year this can lead to a dramatic savings in medication cost. Every little bit of savings will help in the long run, and it is important not to overlook the small savings that you can implement right away.


3. Can you do bulk home delivery?

For those injuries lasting longer than a month, it is worth it to look into home delivery of medications. This increases the discount, because you buy more of the medication at one time, and you do not have to pay the pharmacy overhead for a short-term 30 day fill. Injured workers will appreciate having one less errand to run, especially those who do not have easy transportation readily at hand. At the same point, the PBM will monitor dosage and quantity. Why should you continue to get a medication if it is not helping? Or, if the injured worker is not taking the medication at all? These are leakage costs, and expensive ones at that. The adjuster will ultimately decide if a claim is worthy of needing home delivery, and the delivery will not last forever. If a person has a bad fracture and will need a long-term supply of Motrin, this is a perfect scenario.


Adjusters do frown on home delivery of narcotic pain meds. This gives the claimant a large supply of potentially strong medication, which carries the risk of addiction. Home delivery meds are generally milder. Again, even though these drugs may not cost the most, any sort of savings is better than no savings at all.


4. Are you using prescription utilization review?

PBM companies use a panel of clinical pharmacists to examine prescription data and injury type to make sure appropriate medication is dispensed. This helps control unnecessary costs due to prescribing incorrect medication. Also, PBM utilization review will help to control fraud by monitoring the date and location of refills. Red flags indicating abuse include early refills, a doctor shopping around to get new prescriptions, or a patient changing pharmacies to get refills. Clinical pharmacists also are useful at catching new medication trends, proper quantities of medications, and future costs/needs for ongoing medications. 
By using prospective utilization review, done before the product is used, to avoid the cost, consider prior authorization program. By having an MD on the TPA's staff review the file, many of the medication concerns are addressed proactively. The utilization review company you use, should be URAC certified to ensure quality, credentials and training. A good TPA might even have a chronic pain program to discuss pain issues with an interdisciplinary team of experts. 
5. Use a Pharmacy Benefit Manager or vendor to help with repeat offenders and duplicate prescription medications.
This use of an outside PBM is effective for many reasons, including catching a doctor prescribing both a short-term and long-term narcotic pain medication, duplicate or similar prescriptions being unnecessarily prescribed, and implementing the use of generics whenever possible. The PBM will also participate in state-wide reporting, which will catch if a claimant has other narcotic pain medication fills before the date of injury. This can show the worker may have a history of requesting certain narcotics — a red flag for abuse.
Surveillance companies usually have a service that can do a background check of pharmacies, to see if your claimant has had fills of certain medications aside from the meds needed for your specific injury. This fights fraud, and can expose someone that may have a prescription drug problem. An easy way to get strong medication is to file a comp claim, and any weapons you have to fight fraudulent claims are worth it.(WCxKit)
In summary, a third-party PBM is a useful tool not only for cost-savings but also for catching the many forms of prescription abuse out there. Doctors get lazy when it comes to prescribing medications. Sometimes the answer to every injury is a prescription of Vicodin, Percocet, or some other narcotic when none are needed. Not only are these medications expensive, but they can carry long-term health problems including addiction, which only increase the overall cost of the claim. Using a PBM is another way of being proactive when it comes to handling your claims, and your carrier/TPA will have more information on what you can do to implement a PBM program for use on all of your claims that require prescription medication.

Ask your TPA what programs they offer.

Author Rebecca Shafer
, JD, President of Amaxx Risks Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. She is the author of the #1 selling book on cost containment, Manage Your Workers Compensation: Reduce Costs 20-50% www.WCManual.com. Contact: RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.

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Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker or agent about workers comp issues.
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