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Specialty Pharma

Cancer Drugs a Growing Cost Driver in Workers’ Comp

Presumption laws combined with newer, more expensive cancer drugs are a one-two punch municipalities can ill afford.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 4 min read

In recent years, opioids grabbed a prominent role as one of  the biggest pharmaceutical costs in workers’ comp, but with the proliferation of state presumption laws and a rash of chemotherapeutic specialty drugs either hitting the market or in the works, cancer drugs could be poised to become the next pharmaceutical cost driver.

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Over the course of the last decade, at least 36 states passed presumption of compensability laws, which makes some first responders diagnosed with certain types of cancer eligible for workers’ compensation on the presumption that the individual obtained the disease on the job.

While these bills vary widely, the majority of presumption bills cover firefighters for cancers and other conditions presumed to be caused by their exposure to a known carcinogen. Some of the cancers typically outlined as covered include lung, brain, kidney, bladder, rectal and skin cancer, and often also include non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma.

Phil Walls, the chief clinical officer of myMatrixx, a pharmacy benefit management company owned by Express Scripts and based in Tampa, Fla., said he’s heard payers comment that presumption laws and the specialty drug market keep them up at night.

“Cancer [in workers’ comp] prior to presumption laws was a relatively rare event,” he noted. “For those insurers that cover [these first-responder] populations, I think this is going to have a big impact. Chemotherapy is very expensive. We continue to see escalating drug prices, with most of these within the specialty drug market.”

A recent Express Scripts study noted that more than 830 oncology drugs are in the pipeline.  The company projects that the health care industry can expect to see an increase of more than 20 percent in cancer drug spending each year through 2019, mainly due to patients using these expensive drugs as maintenance therapy.

Elam Herr, assistant executive director, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors

Firefighters and other first responders who may be covered by presumption of compensability laws make up a statistically insignificant portion of the overall workers’ compensation market.

However, a major cancer claim expense could be fiscally damaging for a small municipality, said Brian Allen, vice president of governmental affairs for San Diego, Calif.-based Mitchell Pharmacy Solutions and a board officer for the American Association of Payers, Administrators and Networks.

Public safety employees represent less than 3 percent of the general working population, but if a firefighter or two goes out on disability because of a cancer presumption, it could increase a small city’s claim costs by 20 to 25 percent, he said.

Premiums Impacted

Allen also noted that most of the expensive oncology drugs new to the market weren’t factored into the fiscal analysis conducted by states that have passed these presumption bills, further impacting the bottom line of smaller municipalities.

Elam Herr, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, said that when Pennsylvania passed its presumption of compensability bill in 2011, the response by insurers was to drop them. The bill enabled firefighters to report retroactive claims going back 10 years.

“Starting out with claims for 10 years and no reserves as of day one, all the insurance companies and trust bailed on the municipal governments,” Herr recalled, referring to the township members of the association.

Those small municipalities were forced to seek coverage for their predominantly volunteer fire departments through the State Workers’ Insurance Fund, which led to premium jumps ranging from 20 to 40 percent for townships, he said.

“If there’s one thing American people want, it’s the biggest and best of everything. If there’s a miracle drug out there, they’re going to want it.” — Elam Herr, assistant executive director, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors

Since Pennsylvania’s bill took effect, 261 firefighters petitioned for coverage under the cancer presumption, but only 19 are volunteer firefighters — a smaller figure than Herr and others anticipated.

However, he is still wary about the impact of the law and increasingly expensive oncology drugs.

“I think any type of drug today will drive up cost,” he said. “If there’s one thing American people want, it’s the biggest and best of everything. If there’s a miracle drug out there, they’re going to want it.”

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Representatives of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns are similarly concerned about the impact of presumption bills on comp coverage. In 2016, the Arizona legislature added 12 new cancers to the presumption statute, including skin and prostate cancers, which are common in Arizona.

Arizona’s law allows workers who served as firefighters and peace officers for at least five years to file claims within 15 years of their last date of employment.

“We’re in a new era for workers’ comp for all employers … we’ve got a mix of factors that create the potential for quite a lot of cost,” said Alex Vidal, a legislative associate at the Arizona League of Cities and Towns.

“In terms of drug costs, when you’re treating something as complicated of cancer, the health insurance system is best set up to handle that type of treatment. In workers’ comp, because of their fee schedule system and restrictions, [the system] isn’t able to get the kind of savings that health insurers get, and medical costs can be more expensive.” &

Angela Childers is a Chicago-based writer specializing in health care and business management. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

The Profession

Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

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Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

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A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]