Closed Formularies Hold Promise for Workers’ Compensation Pharmacy Management

October 12, 2015

Opioids linked to escalation in claim cost
Opioids linked to escalation in claim cost

With the signing of A.B. 1124 by Governor Jerry Brown October, California has now joined a handful of states that have adopted closed pharmaceutical formularies in their workers’ compensation systems. While many details have yet to be worked out, the decision comes as good news for injured workers and payers alike.

Closed formularies essentially use evidence-based medicine to identity the prescription drugs that should be allowed for certain injuries. All other medications must go through a preauthorization process. The idea is to ensure the injured worker gets the right medication at the right time for the right reasons – AND to reduce unnecessary pharmacy costs.

Implemented appropriately, a formulary can result in better outcomes and lower costs. In fact, a study last year suggested California’s workers’ compensation system could save between $124 million and $420 million annually by adopting a formulary similar to that in effect elsewhere.

In addition to the states that have already implemented closed formularies or are in the process of doing so, several others are considering the idea. The result could be better efficiencies and significant savings for Tower MSA Partners’ clients in managing workers’ compensation claims even before the Medicare Set Aside review and triage process.

The specifics

Under A.B. 1124, the administrative director of California’s Division of Workers’ Compensation must create a formulary by July 1, 2017 for medications prescribed to injured workers. Between now and then, California regulators must determine a program that best addresses the needs of California’s injured workers.

Four states – Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington have implemented closed drug formularies. Arizona, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina and Tennessee are among the other states considering the formularies or in the midst of developing them.

There are several different types of formularies in effect. Washington, which adopted the first such formulary in 2004, has a more restrictive program than those in some other states. Texas, on the other hand includes more therapeutic groups and more choices within each group.

Regardless of the type of formulary, the states have touted successes. Texas, Washington and Ohio have all reported lower costs.

Texas, which implemented its closed formulary for new injuries in September 2011 and for all injuries in September 2013, also reported the number of injured employees receiving ‘N’ drugs – those requiring preauthorization – fell 65% and costs dropped 83% for new claims for injuries suffered on or after Sept. 1, 2011. Also important, the formulary has led to a significant reduction in the number of injured workers taking opioids on a long-term basis.

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation likewise reported significant utilization and cost declines, including a 74% drop in skeletal muscle relaxants, a 25% decline in narcotics and a total drug cost drop of 16%, for a total of $20.7 million, in fiscal year 2014 compared with fiscal year 2011.

Many decisions must be made before California’s formulary takes effect and a variety of issues must be addressed. For example, the pre-approval process for drugs not allowed, decisions about the strategy for long-time opioid users, and considerations of compound medications must be determined.

Fortunately, a team of workers’ compensation stakeholders involved in helping to craft the legislation ensured some important provisions were included. The law requires the California Division of Workers’ Compensation to update the formulary at least quarterly, establish an independent pharmacy and therapeutics committee, accept public comment and publish two interim status reports

Supporters are confident when all is said and done, California’s formulary will provide effective treatment for injured workers, reduce delays and medical disputes, and reduce costs.

How closed formularies impact claims and MSAs

Closed formularies can serve as a gatekeeper in preventing troublesome medications being prescribed to injured workers. Medical providers in states with closed formularies tend to change their behavior and prescribe more clinically appropriate medications and treatments rather than unnecessary opioids and other drugs that require preauthorization.

While providers need approval to be reimbursed for medications not automatically allowed, supporters say closed formularies do not seek to prevent injured workers from having access to medications that are truly beneficial to them.

Workers’ compensation payers can also look for less adversarial relationships with providers, since there will be fewer questionable medications prescribed for the injured worker. Drugs that are not appropriate for first line therapy are generally those that are not allowed without prior authorization, under the closed formularies.

Many steps must be taken before California’s closed drug formulary will take effect and the devil is surely in the details. However, the fact that the nation’s largest workers’ compensation market is going in this direction is good news indeed!