Sponsored: Healthcare Solutions

Specialty Drugs Show No Signs of Slowing Down

The emergence of specialty drugs in the workers' comp market comes with a new set of complexities and a hefty price tag.
By: | August 31, 2015 • 4 min read

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A decade ago, high-cost specialty drugs were commonly referred to as “injectable drugs” and were used to treat conditions not typically covered in workers’ compensation, such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

“Today, however, new specialty drugs are emerging that will be used to treat other chronic and inflammatory conditions,” said Joe Boures, president and CEO of Healthcare Solutions, an Optum company providing specialized pharmacy benefit management services to the workers’ compensation market.

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Joe Boures, President and CEO, Healthcare Solutions

“Payers in the workers’ comp market are just beginning to feel the cost impact of greater utilization of these drugs, which come with expensive price tags.”

Specialty drugs are often manufactured using biologic rather than chemical methods, and they are no longer just administered by injections. New specialty drugs can also be inhaled or taken orally, likely contributing to the rise in their utilization.

“There isn’t a standard definition of specialty drugs, but they are generally defined as being complex to manufacture, costly, require specialty handling and distribution, and they are difficult for patients to take without ongoing clinical support or may require administration by a health care provider,” said Boures.

In 2014, more than a quarter of all new therapies that the FDA approved were through its biologics division. Biologics, and similar therapies, are representative of a future trend in prescription drug spend.

“As the fastest growing costs in health care today, specialty drugs have the potential to change the way prescription benefits are provided in the future,” said Jim Andrews, executive vice president of pharmacy for Healthcare Solutions.

Workers’ Compensation payers may not recognize how specialty drugs are affecting their drug spend.

Specialty drugs like Enbrel®, Humira® and Synvisc® can be processed in conjunction with other medical procedures and, therefore, not recognized by payers as a pharmacy expense.

This leaves payers with little visibility into the costs of these medications within their book of business and a lack of tools to control these costs.

Due to the high costs of specialty medications, special due diligence should be utilized when claimants receive these medications, up to and including utilization review, said Andrews.

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Jim Andrews, Executive Vice President of Pharmacy, Healthcare Solutions

“Healthcare Solutions recommends that claimants using specialty drugs are monitored for proper medication handling and that the medication is administered appropriately, as well as monitoring the claimant to determine whether the medication is having its desired results and if there are any side effects,” he said.

“At $1,000 per pill for some of these specialty medications, making sure a claimant can tolerate the side effects becomes vital to making sure the claimant achieves the desired outcomes.”

Hepatitis C drugs have made their way to the workers’ compensation market, largely through coverage of healthcare workers, who have exposure to the disease.

“Traditional drug treatments that began in the 1990’s had a success rate of 6% and costs ranging from $1,800 to over $88,000,” said Andrews.

“The new Hepatitis C specialty medications have a treatment success rate of 94-100%, but cost between $90,000 and $226,000.”

Although the new treatments include higher drug costs, the payer’s overall medical costs may actually decrease if the Hep C patient would have required a liver transplant as part of the course of treatment without the drugs.

While the release of new Hepatitis C medications in 2014 demonstrated the potential impact specialty medications can have on workers’ compensation payers, there are some specialty medications under development that target more common conditions in workers’ compensation.

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Pfizer Inc. and Eli Lilly and Company are currently developing tanezumab, a new, non-narcotic medication to treat chronic pain, which is common in workers’ compensation claims.

Tanezumab has demonstrated benefits of reducing pain in clinical trials and may provide non-addictive pain relief to claimants in the future.  This may change how pain management is treated in the future.

Healthcare Solutions has a specialty medication program that provides payers discounted rates and management oversight of claimants receiving specialty medications.

Through the paper bill process, Healthcare Solutions aids payers in identifying specialty drugs and works with adjusters and physicians to move claimants into the specialty network.

A central feature of the program is that claimants are assigned to a clinical pharmacist or a registered nurse with specialty pharmacy training for consistent care with one-on-one consultations and ongoing case management.

The program provides patients with education and counseling, guidance on symptoms related to their medical conditions and drug side effects, proactive intervention for medication non-adherence, and prospective refill reminder and follow-up calls.

“The goal is to improve patient outcomes and reduce total costs of care,” said Boures.

This article was produced by Healthcare Solutions and not the Risk & Insurance® editorial team.



Healthcare Solutions serves as a health services company delivering integrated solutions to the property and casualty markets, specializing in workers’ compensation and auto liability/PIP.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]