Pharmacy Cost Control

State Drug Monitoring Programs Not Fully Utilized

With access to PDMP data, pharmacy benefit managers could be an important ally in the fight against opioid addiction.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 4 min read

Among the most powerful tools in America’s fight against opioid abuse are state-run Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs). In 49 out of 50 states, PDMPs mandate reporting of the prescription and dispensation of opioids and other controlled medications by physicians and pharmacists, who are then able to consult that data.

G. Caleb Alexander, MD, FACP, oo-director, Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Unfortunately, PDMP data is largely inaccessible to Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), who should be well-positioned to detect, prevent, and intervene in high-risk opioid prescription situations.

This centralized, comprehensive data can be enormously valuable in detecting patterns that could indicate actual or potential addiction issues, including polypharmacy (multiple opioid prescriptions); multiple prescribers or payers; excessive dosages and dangerous interactions.

Having multiple prescriptions or failing to take a prescribed mediation may be an innocent mistake. But those instances can also indicate efforts to game the system, such as “doctor shopping.” Either way, detecting high-risk patterns and responding quickly is essential to patient outcomes and to reducing excess drug costs and addiction treatment costs.

A 2015 study released by Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, “The Prescription Opioid Epidemic: An Evidence-Based Approach,” advocates granting PBMs access to PDMP data — with proper patient privacy protections —citing PBM’s prescription claims surveillance, prescriber intervention programs, and claims review software algorithms.

Describing the proven effectiveness of prescriber letters from PBMs, as well as prior authorization, precertification, and maximum quantity limits per prescription, the report says, “These programs could be enhanced if the PBM has complete controlled substance claims history, including cash claims, through access to states’ PDMPs.”

“PBMs are uniquely able to help shape patient care in many ways that no other stakeholder has the capacity to do,” said G. Caleb Alexander, MD, FACP, Co-Director, Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the report’s co-editor.

“PBMs are uniquely able to help shape patient care in many ways that no other stakeholder has the capacity to do.” — G. Caleb Alexander, MD, FACP, Co-Director, Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

“Our health care system is incredibly fragmented,” said Alexander. “[PDMPs] allow for comprehensive collection and organization of the totality of a patient’s controlled substance use … [enabling PBMs] to better design and deploy and evaluate a variety of different mechanisms or interventions.”

PBMs could also aggregate data across state lines, revealing patterns not apparent from individual state PDMP data. PBMs are not only equipped to monitor such data in real time, they are financially incentivized to do so.

“Our role is to ensure the safe use of medication and that they are being used effectively and cost-effectively,” said Patrick Gleason, Pharm.D, a signatory of the Johns Hopkins report and Senior Director of Health Outcomes at Prime Therapeutics, a PBM owned by 14 not-for-profit Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plans, subsidiaries or affiliates.

“If the unsafe use of medication is leading to health care costs and harm for our members, we want to do everything we can to ensure that doesn’t happen. … First and foremost it’s about safety, and unsafe use of medications leads to higher cost.”

Debate Over Access

Some have voiced concerns about PBM access to PDMP data, even among those who advocate for it. In addition to patient privacy concerns, there are questions about PBM financial incentives, which Alexander calls, “horribly opaque.”

Patrick Gleason, senior director of health outcomes, Prime Therapeutics

In lieu of access to PDMP data, some PBMs have established structural relationships with dispensing pharmacists.

“We partnered with a workers’ comp dedicated pharmacy for those high-risk patients … where there’s a lot of opioid exposure,” explained Mike Cirillo, Managing Director at Specialty Solutions Rx, a PBM specializing in workers’ comp.

“We actually route the patient into that pharmacy, [who then does] the PDMP look up. They can do an outreach to the patient and to the physician to talk about medications.”

According to Cirillo, “three to five percent of the opioid prescriptions that come in get a polypharmacy hit on the PDMP.”

Prime Therapeutics is pursuing a similar strategy.

“We have a validated, controlled substance scoring system and we’re developing a process to send the individuals that are scoring the highest to Walgreens, to have Walgreens’ pharmacists look those people up in the PDMP and provide more consultative services at the point of care,” said Gleason, emphasizing that the PBM itself will not be looking into the PDMP.

While there is currently no concerted effort to gain PBM access to PDMP data, according to Corey Davis, Deputy Director, Southeastern Region Network for Public Health Law, there are some encouraging trends among PDMPs.

“It’s becoming more standardized, so states are kind of all moving in the same direction of collecting more data, more drug schedules, and requiring that the data be uploaded more often.” &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Robotics Risk

Rise of the Cobots

Collaborative robots, known as cobots, are rapidly expanding in the workforce due to their versatility. But they bring with them liability concerns.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 5 min read

When the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto hired mobile collaborative robots to bolster security patrols, the goal was to improve costs and safety.

Once the autonomous robotic guards took up their beats — bedecked with alarms, motion sensors, live video streaming and forensics capabilities — no one imagined what would happen next.

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For some reason,  a cobots’ sensors didn’t pick up the movement of a toddler on the sidewalk who was trying to play with the 5-foot-tall, egg-shaped figure.

The 300-pound robot was programmed to stop for shoppers, but it knocked down the child and then ran over his feet while his parents helplessly watched.

Engaged to help, this cobot instead did harm, yet the use of cobots is growing rapidly.

Cobots are the fastest growing segment of the robotics industry, which is projected to hit $135.4 billion in 2019, according to tech research firm IDC.

“Robots are embedding themselves more and more into our lives every day,” said Morgan Kyte, a senior vice president at Marsh.

“Collaborative robots have taken the robotics industry by storm over the past several years,” said Bob Doyle, director of communications at the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

When traditional robots joined the U.S. workforce in the 1960s, they were often assigned one specific task and put to work safely away from humans in a fenced area.

Today, they are rapidly being deployed in the automotive, plastics, electronics assembly, machine tooling and health care industries due to their ability to function in tandem with human co-workers.

More than 24,000 robots valued at $1.3 billion were ordered from North American companies last year, according to the RIA.

Cobots Rapidly Gain Popularity

Cobots are cheaper, more versatile and lighter, and often have a faster return on investment compared to traditional robots. Some cobots even employ artificial intelligence (AI) so they can adapt to their environment, learn new tasks and improve on their skills.

Bob Doyle, director of communications, Robotic Industry Association

Their software is simple to program, so companies don’t need a computer programmer, called a robotic integrator, to come on site to tweak duties. Most employees can learn how to program them.

While the introduction of cobots into the workplace can bring great productivity gains, it also introduces risk mitigation challenges.

“Where does the problem lie when accidents happen and which insurance covers it?” asked attorney Garry Mathiason, co-chair of the robotics, AI and automation industry group at the law firm Littler Mendelson PC in San Francisco.

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways,” Marsh’s Kyte said.

“The robot can fail. A subcomponent can fail. It can draw the wrong conclusions.”

If something goes amiss, exposure may fall to many different parties:  the manufacturer of the cobot, the software developer and/or the purchaser of the cobot, to name a few.

Is it a product defect? Was it an issue in the base code or in the design? Was something done in the cobot’s training? Was it user error?

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways.” — Morgan Kyte, senior vice president, Marsh

Is it a workers’ compensation case or a liability issue?

“If you get injured in the workplace, there’s no debate as to liability,” Mathiason said.

But if the employee attributes the injury to a poorly designed or programmed machine and sues the manufacturer of the equipment, that’s not limited by workers’ comp, he added.

Garry Mathiason, co-chair, robotics, AI and automation industry group, Littler Mendelson PC

In the case of a worker killed by a cobot in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2015, the worker’s spouse filed suit against five of the companies responsible for manufacturing the machine.

“It’s going to be unique each time,” Kyte said.

“The issue that keeps me awake at night is that people are so impressed with what a cobot can do, and so they ask it to do a task that it wasn’t meant to perform,” Mathiason said.

Privacy is another consideration.

If the cobot records what is happening around it, takes pictures of its environment and the people in it, an employee or customer might claim a privacy violation.

A public sign disclosing the cobot’s ability to record video or take pictures may be a simple solution. And yet, it is often overlooked, Mathiason said.

Growing Pains in the Industry

There are going to be growing pains as the industry blossoms in advance of any legal and regulatory systems, Mathiason said.

He suggests companies take several mitigation steps before introducing cobots to the workplace.

First, conduct a safety audit that specifically covers robotics. Make sure to properly investigate the use of the technology and consider all options. Run a pilot program to test it out.

Most importantly, he said, assign someone in the organization to get up to speed on the technology and then continuously follow it for updates and new uses.

The Robotics Industry Association has been working with the government to set up safety standards. One employee can join a cobot member association to receive the latest information on regulations.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion about this technology and people see so many things that could go wrong,” Mathiason said.

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“But if you handle it properly with the safety audit, the robotics audit, and pay attention to what the standards are, it’s going to be the opposite; there will be fewer problems.

“And you might even see in your experience rating that you are going to [get] a better price to the policy,” he added.

Without forethought, coverage may slip through the cracks. General liability, E&O, business interruption, personal injury, cyber and privacy claims can all be involved.

AIG’s Lexington Insurance introduced an insurance product in 2015 to address the gray areas cobots and robots create. The coverage brings together general and products liability, robotics errors and omissions, and risk management services, all three of which are tailored for the robotics industry. Minimum premium is $25,000.

Insurers are using lessons learned from the creation of cyber liability policies and are applying it to robotics coverage, Kyte said.

“The robotics industry has been very safe for the last 30 years,” RIA’s Doyle said. “It really does have a good track record and we want that to continue.” &

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]