Monday, July 27, 2015

Fear Not, Be Smart: How to Deal with Medical Marijuana

The headline from workcompcentral today is Comp Industry Urged to Prepare for Medical Marijuana.  As usual, it's a solid and informative article from a great source (and I'm not just saying that because PRIUM's own Mark Pew is quoted throughout).  Nonetheless, I'm always concerned when I hear talk of medical marijuana that takes on a foreboding and troubling tone.  I'm sure Sedgwick's Mr. Canavan meant no harm.  And I have to admit that I wasn't present.  But comments like, "You can blame New Mexico the next time you pay for medical marijuana" strike me as fodder for filling hotel ballrooms at conferences and not reflective of the actual medical and legal realities with which we're dealing.

Back in April, I wrote the following:

"Did you know that of the 24 states with medical marijuana laws, most have either explicit or implicit provisions allowing for commercial payers to avoid reimbursement for medical marijuana?

Did you know that most of these states have a list of allowable conditions that provide a second layer of potential protection for commercial payers? 

Did you know that most of these states have medical treatment guidelines that address the use of medical marijuana?

Did you know that the New Mexico cases that have most of our industry concerned about this issue exhibit systemic failure on the part of the payers in those cases to take advantage of these various provisions and protections?" 

So let's all take a deep, cleansing breath.  If we're smart about this - if states are thinking about evidence based guidelines and payer carve outs, if payers are thinking about UR and peer review, if doctors are thinking about what's best for patients - we can keep medical marijuana in the box in which it belongs.  Mark Pew is right that the legalization of medical marijuana is inevitable and the advent of recreational marijuana is upon us.  But the risk management issue should be in the areas of drug-free work place issues and on-the-job safety.  

When it comes to injured worker treatment, we're not suggesting that medical marijuana is a non-event that deserves no attention.  We're suggesting that smart payers with smart medical management strategies need not fear being overwhelmed with medical marijuana spend.  

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Unpacking the California Closed Formulary

With ever greater frequency, I'm encountering questions regarding California's legislative attempt to create a closed formulary.  "What do you think?" is the intentionally loaded question.  This is one of those interrogatives that requires unpacking, like a suitcase that's been the companion of a traveler on a long road trip.  There are a lot of layers, some messier and more complicated than others.  Courage is required to unload the suitcase and it'll take a while to sort through all the laundry.  And yes... the "baggage" metaphor is intentional.  So much baggage.  

Should California adopt a closed formulary?
Of course they should.  All state workers' compensation systems should.  A well designed formulary, properly implemented, is the best and fastest way to disseminate clinical best practices and contemporary medical evidence throughout the provider community (a community that is, I might add - through no fault of their own - perennially behind the curve on the latest science regarding appropriate, safe, and efficacious use of medications).  Doctors and patients clearly benefit from the "guide rails" of a formulary.   

What will the California closed formulary look like?  How will it work?
I have no idea.  No one does.  And should you encounter someone that claims to know, tread carefully and remain skeptical.  The sausage-making process is in full swing in Sacramento and everyone wants a seat at the table.  What's clear at this point is that the usual suspects have taken their predictable positions (Chamber of Commerce likes it, applicant attorneys don't, etc.)  Also clear is that each amendment added to the current bill creates significant swings in support.  At this point, it's hard to even ascertain the score, much less who has the momentum.  

If (emphasis on that word "if) this happens, when will it go into effect?
Likely not until mid-year 2017 at the earliest.  Keep in mind that the Texas closed formulary was phased in starting in September of 2011 and applied to legacy claims in September of 2013... after the legislative mandate for the formulary was signed into law via HB 7 in 2005.  These things take time.  
What will this mean to you?
Well, CWCI says it could mean injured workers are treated more appropriately... to the tune of $120 million - $420 million in annual savings.  That's a lot of prescriptions never dispensed... a lot of drugs never taken... a lot of addiction never rearing its ugly head... a lot of injured workers saved from greater pain and suffering brought on by inappropriate treatment.

What are the chances?
Perhaps the most complicated question of all... because it's really two different questions.  What are the chances of something passing... something the state calls a "formulary"?  Pretty good, I think. What are the chances the resulting regulatory approach really creates a safer medical treatment environment for injured workers that subsequently saves payers millions of dollars?  It's possible... but not probable.  Like any major legislative/regulatory change, this will be flawed.  Let's hope it's not so flawed that it's not worth doing.  

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

1 in 4 Opioid Scripts Ends Up "Long Term"

The Mayo Clinic wanted to assess the risk factors associated with opioid use.  They started by asking, "How many opioid prescriptions end up leading to long term use?"

Turns out, 1 in 4.  

Specifically, the researchers found that 21% of first-time prescriptions led to use for 3-4 months and 6% of first-time scripts led to use longer than 4 months.

Those time intervals are silly, aren't they?  From our perspective in work comp, we're seeing material numbers of injured workers progress (or, perhaps, regress) to 3-4 years of opioid use after the first script.  Personally, I'd like to see a study that tests use patterns over much longer duration intervals.  I also suspect that the work comp population exhibits a higher "long term use conversion rate" than a randomly selected patient population.  System design tends to reward certain stakeholders for disability duration.

The research is also intriguing because it examined the specific risk factors that lead to long term use. Nicotine use and prior substance abuse issues were the top risk factors.  While this isn't necessarily surprising, we see scant evidence that these risk factors are being taken into account at the time of the first opioid script.  The best predictive models in our industry are certainly telling us that these patients are at higher risk, but if the prescribing doctors aren't taking this information seriously and using it to inform an alternative, non-opioid treatment plan... what's the use?

Faster, more focused interventions with prescribers will be key to preventing long term opioid use.

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