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 riskletters@lrp.com.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

This senior risk manager values his role in helping Varian Medical Systems support research and technologies in the fight against cancer.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

When I was 15 years old I had a summer job working for the city of Plentywood, mowing grass in the parks and ballfields, emptying garbage cans, hauling waste to the dump, painting crosswalk lines.  A great job for a teenager but I thought getting a college degree and working in an air-conditioned office would be a good plan long term.

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

I was enrolled in the University of Montana as a general business student, and I wanted to declare a more specialized major during my sophomore year. I was working for my dad at his insurance agency over the summer, and taking new agent training coursework on property/casualty risks in my spare time, so I had an appreciation for insurance. My dad suggested I research risk management for a career, and I transferred sight unseen to the University of Georgia to enroll in their risk management program. I did an internship as a senior with the risk management department at Sulzer Medica, and they offered me a full time job.

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

Advertisement




We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks. If we initiate a collaborative exercise with the risk owners — people who may have unique knowledge about that particular risk — and include a cross section of people from other corporate functions, you can do an effective job of taking the risk apart to analyze it, figure out a way to manage that exposure, and then reap the upside benefits while reducing the downside exposure. That can be done with new products and new service offerings, when there isn’t coverage available for a risk. It’s asking, is there anything we can do to reduce the risk without transferring it?

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

Cyber liability. There’s so much at stake and the bad guys are getting more resourceful every day. At Varian, our first approach is to try to make our systems and products more resilient, so we’re trying to direct resources to preventing it from happening in the first place. It’s a huge reputation risk if one of our products or systems were compromised, so we want to avoid that at all costs.

We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks.

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

I’ve worked with a number of great ones over the years. We’ve enjoyed a great property insurance relationship with Zurich. Their loss control services are very valuable to us. On the umbrella liability side, it’s been great partnering with companies like Swiss Re and Berkley Life Sciences because they’ve put in the time and effort to understand our unique risk exposures.

R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

One hundred percent through a broker. I view our broker as an extension of our risk management team. We benefit from each team member’s respective area of expertise and experience.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

Advertisement




I think so. The brokers were kind of villainized by Spitzer. I think it’s fair for brokers and insurers to make a reasonable profit, and if a portion of their profit came from contingent commissions, I’m fine with that. But I do appreciate the transparency and disclosure that came out as a result of the fiasco.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the US economy or pessimistic and why?

David Collins, Senior Manager, Risk Management, Varian Medical Systems Inc.

While we might be doing fine here in the U.S. from an economic perspective, the Middle East is a mess, and we’re living with nuclear threat from North Korea. But hope springs eternal, so I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m hoping saner minds prevail and our leaders throughout the world work together to make things better.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My Dad got me started down the insurance and risk path. I’ve also been fortunate to work for or with a number of University of Georgia alumni who’ve been mentors for me. I’ve worked side by side with Karen Epermanis, Michael Rousseau, and Elisha Finney. And I’ve worked with Daniel Dean in his capacity as a broker.

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

Advertisement




Raising my kids. I have a 15-year-old and 12-year-old, and they’re making mom and dad proud of the people they’re turning into.

On a professional level, a recent one would be the creation and implementation of our global travel risk program, which was a combined effort between security, travel and risk functions.

We have a huge team of service personnel around the world, traveling to customer sites to do maintenance and repair. We needed a way to track, monitor and communicate with them. We may need to make security arrangements or vet their lodging in some circumstances.

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

My 12-year-old son thought my job responsibilities could be summed up as a “professional worrier.” And that’s not too far off.

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

Varian’s mission is to focus energy on saving lives. Proper administration of the risk function puts the company in a better position to financially support research that improves products and capabilities, helps to educate health care providers and support cancer care in general. It means more lives saved from a terrible disease. I’m proud to contribute toward that.

When you meet someone whose cancer has been successfully treated with one of our products, it’s a powerful reward.




Katie Siegel is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at ksiegel@lrp.com.