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The Tools of the Trade

Opioid use is ticking down slightly, but high-priced specialty drugs, compound medications and physician dispensing are giving WC risk managers and payers all they can handle.
By: | July 1, 2015 • 7 min read

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Integrating medical management with pharmacy benefit management is the Holy Grail in workers’ compensation. But getting it right involves diligence, good team communication and robust controls over the costs of monitoring technology.

Risk managers in workers’ compensation can feel good about the fact that opioid use is declining slightly. But experts who gathered for a pharmacy risk management roundtable in Philadelphia in June pointed to a number of reasons why workers’ compensation professionals have more than enough work cut out for them going forward.

For one, although opioid use is declining, its abuse and overuse in legacy workers’ compensation claims is still very much a problem. An epidemic rages nationally, with prescription drug overdose deaths outpacing those from the abuse of heroin and cocaine combined.

In addition, increased use of compound medications and unregulated physician dispensing are resulting in price gouging and poor medical outcomes.

Although individual states are attempting to address the problem of physician dispensing of prescriptions in workers’ comp, there is no national prohibition against it: That despite substantial evidence that the practice can result in ruinous workers’ compensation medical bills and poor patient outcomes.

“The issue is that there isn’t enough formal evidence to indicate improved outcomes from the use of compounds or physician dispensed drugs, and there are also legitimate concerns with patient safety,” said roundtable participant Jim Andrews, executive vice president, pharmacy, for Duluth, Ga.-based pharmacy benefit manager Healthcare Solutions.

Jim Andrews, Executive Vice President, Pharmacy, Healthcare Solutions

Jim Andrews, Executive Vice President, Pharmacy, Healthcare Solutions

Andrews’ concerns were echoed by another roundtable participant, Dr. Jennifer Dragoun, Philadelphia-based vice president and chief medical officer with AmeriHealth Casualty.

“When we’re seeing worsening outcomes and increasing costs, that’s the worst possible combination of events,” Dr. Dragoun said.

Whereas two years ago, topical creams and other compounds with two to three medications in them were causing concern, now we’re seeing compounds with seven or more medicines in them.

How those medicines are interacting with one another, and in the case of a compound cream, how quickly they’re being absorbed by the patient, are unknowns that are creating undue health risks.

“These medicines haven’t been tested for that route of administration,” Dragoun said.

In other words, the compounds have not been reviewed or approved by the FDA.

Carol Valentic, vice president of cost containment and medical management with third-party administrator Broadspire, said her company’s approach to that issue is to send a letter to providers, through the company’s pharmacy benefit administrator, alerting them to the fact that compounds are not FDA-approved and could be dangerous.

Other roundtable participants said they employ utilization review of every prescribed compound medication. They’re finding that the inflation of the average wholesale price for prescriptions that pharmacy benefit managers are battling in the case of single medications is happening with compounds as well, to the surprise of probably no one.

“The cost of compounds is doubling every year,” Healthcare Solutions’ Andrews said.

Deborah Gleason, Clinical Resources Manager, ESIS

Deborah Gleason, Clinical Resources Manager, ESIS

Kim Clark, vice president of utilization management with Patriot Care Management Inc., a division of Patriot National, Inc., said Patriot has their own software, DecisionUR, and opioids as well as  compound prescriptions can be directed from the PBM to utilization review.

In the area of new worries in workers’ compensation, and there are plenty of them. Dragoun also pointed to the introduction of extremely high cost, albeit extremely effective specialty medications, such as those being used to treat Hepatitis C. Treatments in this area can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Domestic drug manufacturers, pressed to pursue profits as their product lines mature and their margins level off, are jockeying for dominance in this area.

“This seems to be a route that a lot of drug makers are going after. Very narrow markets but with extremely high cost medications,” said Deborah Gleason, clinical resources manager, medical programs, with ESIS, Inc., the Philadelphia-based third-party administrator that is part of ACE Group.

Tools of the Trade

Given how substantially the use of prescriptions can balloon the cost of a workers’ compensation claim and undermine outcomes, a number of tools are on the market that can help risk managers rein in costs.

One is urine drug monitoring, which can catch cases of drug diversion, or instances where an injured worker is ingesting unprescribed substances. But the use of that test can create its own problems, namely overutilization.

ESIS’ Gleason and others use urine drug monitoring. But when the test is overused, say by being conducted every month instead of quarterly as is recommended, the members of the Philadelphia roundtable said its costs can outrun its usefulness.

Test results are frequently inconsistent, signaling that the injured workers aren’t taking the prescribed medication or are taking something they shouldn’t be. Drug testing shouldn’t be used in isolation but rather as a component of integrated medical management.

“What’s emerging today, and in some companies more prevalently, is the integration of managed care with pharmacy benefit management,” roundtable participant Valentic said.

HCS_BrandedContent“When we’re seeing worsening outcomes and increasing costs, that’s the worst possible combination of events.”

— Dr. Jennifer Dragoun, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, AmeriHealth Casualty

In other words, it’s not enough to flag a script or pick up a urine drug monitoring test result. There needs to be a plan or a system in place that says what action should be taken with the patient once that information has been received.

Identifying a potential problem early and taking action on it is key, said ESIS’ Gleason. She added that the patient’s psychological state, including how they react to and perceive pain, is something that more risk practitioners should consider.

Obstacles to doing that, according to roundtable members, include a lack of awareness or acceptance of its possible advantages on the part of patients and physicians. After all, we’re talking about an assessment, a list of questions, that should take no more than 15 minutes to carry out.

If a treating physician or case manager doesn‘t conduct a psychological test but is still concerned about the potential for pain medication abuse, there is one key question they can ask an injured worker, according to AmeriHealth Casualty’s Dragoun.

“There is one question that predicts far more than any other attribute of a patient whether they are likely to abuse narcotics, and that is if they have a personal or family history of substance abuse,” Dragoun said.

Kim Clark, Vice President of Utilization Management, Patriot Care Management

Kim Clark, Vice President of Utilization Management, Patriot Care Management

“You know they may ask that about the patient, but I don’t know how many ask it about the family,” Patriot Care Management’s Kim Clark said.

Pharmacogenetic testing, that is testing an individual for how they might react to certain drugs or combinations of drugs, and not — let’s be clear about this — whether they are predisposed to addiction, is also entering the market.

But as is the case with urine drug monitoring, the use of pharmacogenetic testing is no cure-all and the cost of it needs to be carefully managed.

Some vendors are pitching that it be applied to every case in a payer’s portfolio. The roundtable participants in Philadelphia agreed that it should be used with far more discretion than that.

Regulating the Regulators

It’s a given in the insurance business and in workers’ compensation that regulators in all 50 states call the shots. There are few national laws that regulate the hazards faced by workers’ compensation risk managers and injured workers.

Having said that, is it really such a pipe dream to think that the federal government could step in and provide leadership in an area that is so prone to confusion, risk and self-serving behavior on the part of some vendors and medical practitioners?

If the Philadelphia roundtable as a group could point to one place where federal regulators could do some good it would be in the area of physician dispensing. Many states have enacted legislation to curb the practice, as there is no data to prove better outcomes, and regulation by the federal government would be of benefit, the Philadelphia roundtable concluded.

Another area would be to require FDA oversight for compounds.

“The minute you need to have FDA approval of a compound, that’s going to stop it,” Broadspire’s Valentic said.

It’s a notion worth considering. After all, lives are at stake here.

Given the lack of oversight from the federal government, the roundtable participants pointed to measures in a number of states that are worth emulating. The Texas closed formulary, which limits the range of medications that can be prescribed, is one example.

The requirement in the State of New York that a prescribing physician check a state registry — what’s known as a prescription drug monitoring program — to see whether a patient is already taking or has a prescription for a controlled substance, is another good example of a state government stepping in to ensure the safety of its residents.

“The minute you need to have FDA approval of a compound, that’s going to stop it.”

— Carol Valentic, Vice President of Cost Containment, Medical Management, Broadspire

Pennsylvania also earned praise from the roundtable for recently passing a measure limiting the amount of medication that a physician can dispense to an initial supply.

With different regulations in every state and with the average wholesale cost of prescriptions constantly on the rise, pharmacy benefit management is an art requiring constant vigilance.

“It’s not an original thought, but if you stop and think about all the things that are happening in society with the addictions and the costs, the cost of doing nothing is greater than the cost of doing something.

I think that’s why everybody is doing something,” Healthcare Solutions’ Andrews said.

For more information about Healthcare Solutions, please visit www.healthcaresolutions.com.

Opinions of the roundtable participants are the opinions of each individual contributor and are not necessarily reflective of their respective companies.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Healthcare Solutions. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




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]