Tag Archives: Opioids

Major Employer Questions Use Of Drug Formularies In Workers’ Compensation

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Drug formularies are touted as a way to fight prescription drug abuse and contain prescription drug cost. But one major Nebraska employer appears to be questioning whether drug formularies really contain prescription costs.

In a fiscal note for LB 408, a bill introduced in the Nebraska legislature to create drug formularies for opioid pain medications in workers’ compensation claims, the City of Omaha expressed concern that the inability to substitute for generic medication in a drug formulary could lead to higher prescription costs.

The City of Omaha was echoing widespread concerns about the possibility of conflict of interests in drug formularies. Those concerns were explained by me in a blog post published last December. In short, drug formularies are administered by pharmacy benefit managers. Pharmacy benefit managers make money by negotiating discounts from drug manufacturers. This gives pharmacy benefit managers incentive to put more expensive drugs on drug formularies because they can negotiate a more lucrative discount than they could for a less expensive generic drug.

LB 408 was held in committee by the Business and Labor committee so it is unlikely it will be considered in this legislative session. Opioids abuse is a topic of high interest for political leaders so drug formularies as a way to reduce opioid use will likely be discussed further in Nebraska.

The City of Omaha has a workforce this is more heavily unionized than most other workplaces in Nebraska.  In some instances, labor and management will collectively bargain how some aspects of a workers’ compensation program is to be administered. Supporters of organized labor originated the idea of “labor pluralism” during the New Deal and Post-War era. (4) Labor pluralism means that government should minimize interference between the labor-management relationship.   In a unionized workplace, labor and management have a complicated relationship that is both cooperative and confrontational depending on the circumstances. A mandate from the state requiring the use of drug formularies could be as undermining labor-management relations when a labor and management have bargained about the administration of workers’ compensation benefits.

Opioids And Doctor Choice

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said in 2008 that “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” In the context of opioids and workers compensation this could mean reforms to workers compensation systems beyond drug formularies If solving the opioid crisis means limiting the number of doctors who can prescribe opioids, then there will be fewer doctors who will treat workers compensation cases.

Additional licensure and certifications aren’t unheard of in the world of occupational health. In 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration implemented a new rule that only doctors on their registry can perform DOT Physical Examinations for truckers and other professional drivers. This reduced the number of doctors who can perform those examinations. 

When I testified on LB 408, a bill that would have implemented drug formularies for opioids under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act, some doctors were testifying that there was little training in regards to prescribing opioids. Though an opioid prescription registry like the DOT examination registry wasn’t proposed, you could certainly see it proposed as a solution to the opioid problem.

By limiting the numbers of doctor who handle workers’ compensation claims through additional licensing requirements, injured employees will have fewer choices for medical treatment and are more likely to have their employer control their care.

Evidence shows that the workers compensation system has made some contribution to the opioid crisis. According to a 2015 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics over 3.5 million employees were injured at work. Half of those injuries required the employee to miss sometime from work. A study of employees in 25 states done by the Workers Compensation Research Institute revealed that 55 to 85 percent of employees who missed at least one week of work were prescribed at least one opioid prescription.

When I testified on LB 408 the consensus among the doctors testifying on the legislation was that injured workers were more vulnerable to narcotic addiction than other patients who are prescribed narcotic pain medication. Scientific studies give some credence to these conclusions. Workers compensation claims can cause economic insecurity. According to an article in Scientific America, Addiction rates for opioids are 3.4 times higher for those with incomes under $20,000 per year than they are for employees making more than 50,000 per year.

But that article also shared studies that state that pain pill prescriptions are not driving the opioid epidemic. Patients with pre-existing addiction issues are more likely to become addicted to opioids and 75 percent of those who develop opioids start taking opioids in a non-prescribed manner. Furthermore, only 12 to 13 percent of ER patients who are treated for opioid overdoses are chronic pain patients.

Workers’ Compensation is traditionally an area of the law that is controlled by the states. Regulation of drugs is generally an area reserved for the federal government. Any laws imposing additional hurdles or requirements upon doctors who prescribe opioid drugs may have to come from the federal government.

Drug Formularies, Part 1: The Rest of the Story

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

A drug formulary is a term describing a list of drugs that are covered by an insurance plan. In workers’ compensation, formularies are touted as a way to reduce prescription costs and lead to more effective care. Formularies are particularly pushed as a solution for opioid use and abuse for injured employees.

The headline numbers about the reduction of prescription costs look eye popping. One group of pharmacy benefit managers, the companies that manage drug formularies, claimed a 9 percent reduction in prescription costs over the last year. Ohio, which has the largest state-run workers compensation fund in the country, claimed a 16 percent reduction in prescription costs in the first three years after they implemented a drug formulary. Ohio reported 15.7 million fewer doses of opioids in that time period and a 36 percent reduction in opioid costs.

The Rest of the Story about Drug Formularies

Florida workers’ compensation judge David Langham has asked “what is the rest of the story” about drug formularies. If drug formularies are so effective, then why have they only been adopted in a few states for workers’ compensation?

While drug formularies are a relatively recent development in workers’ compensation, they are well established in the larger world of health insurance. Drug formularies have long been criticized for increasing costs in health insurance plans by reducing prescription usage because costs are shifted to insureds, which forces insureds to seek more expensive care, because chronic conditions go untreated. Overall costs are increased. The costs are also shifted onto insureds who have to pick up the costs for more expensive procedures that could have been taken care of through medication. Cost shifting from the employer onto the employee, other forms of insurance and the government is already a serious problem in workers’ compensation. Drug formularies in workers’ compensation could exacerbate the issue of cost-shifting.

Do Drug Formularies add up?  Cost = Price * Utilization

When you study drug formularies for any amount of time, you run across the equation that drug costs equal price multiplied by utilization. Proponents of drug formularies tout that they can decrease both the utilization and the price of prescription drugs. Ohio has provided detailed information about the decrease in the utilization of certain drugs like opioids because of formularies. However, the decrease in the utilization in opioids cited by proponents of drug formularies coincides with an overall long-standing decrease in the frequency or number of workers’ compensation claims. Fewer overall claims mean less overall utilization, which could explain some of the cost decrease. A better measure of the effectiveness in drug formularies in controlling costs would be measured by looking at prescription cost per claim. So far, drug formulary proponents have been unable to show that data. Even if drug formulary proponents could show that data, there is still the issue of whether reductions in prescription drug costs lead to increases medical costs by forcing injured employees to seek more expensive care that could have been taken care of by prescriptions.

On the price end of the equation, drug formularies are thought to control costs by having pharmacy benefit managers negotiate bulk discounts on prescription drugs. But pharmacy benefit managers have come under fire with allegations that they actually increase drug prices or at the very least are powerless to stop the increases in drug prices. The issue of drug formularies, pharmacy benefit managers and drug prices is complicated and will be addressed in Part 2 of this series.

New York Times: C.D.C. Painkiller Guidelines Aim to Reduce Addiction Risk

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

The following is an exerpt from a New York Times article by Sabrina Tavernise publised on March 15, 2016.

New C.D.C. guidelines on opioids like Percocet are likely to have sweeping effects on the practice of medicine.

In an effort to curb what many consider the worst public health drug crisis in decades, the federal government on Tuesday published the first national standards for prescription painkillers, recommending that doctors try pain relievers like ibuprofen before prescribing the highly addictive pills, and that they give most patients only a few days’ supply.

The release of the new guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ends months of arguments with pain doctors and drug industry groups, which had bitterly opposed the recommendations on the grounds that they would create unfair hurdles for patients who legitimately have long-term pain.

In the end, the agency softened the recommendations slightly but basically held its ground, a testament to how alarmed policy makers have become over the mounting overdoses and deaths from opioid addiction. Opioid deaths — including from heroin, which some people turn to after starting with prescription painkillers — reached a record28,647 in 2014, according to the most recent federal statistics.