Don’t Believe The Hype – Copay Waivers

Don’t believe the hype – its a sequel
As an equal, can I get this through to you
 

I talk about it all the time as most people do…non-adherence to prescription drugs is a real issue.  People don’t fill their initial script.  People who do fill their first script drop off after the first several fills.  By 12-18 months after a patient starts therapy, less than 50% of them are still taking their medications.  Here’s a few key articles on this: 

Common barriers to adherence are under the patient’s control, so that attention to them is a necessary and important step in improving adherence. In responses to a questionnaire, typical reasons cited by patients for not taking their medications included forgetfulness (30 percent), other priorities (16 percent), decision to omit doses (11 percent), lack of information (9 percent), and emotional factors (7 percent); 27 percent of the respondents did not provide a reason for poor adherence to a regimen.  Physicians contribute to patients’ poor adherence by prescribing complex regimens, failing to explain the benefits and side effects of a medication adequately, not giving consideration to the patient’s lifestyle or the cost of the medications, and having poor therapeutic relationships with their patients.  (NEJM article) 

Depending on what study you look at cost is certainly an issue, but it typically isn’t the primary issue.  I typically see cost as being a factor in 5-15% of the cases.  I think if you look at how Merck weighs cost in their Adherence Estimator that it is only a small factor.  A lot of this plays out in VBID (Value Based Insurance Design) which while not purely about copay waivers that certainly is an element of most solutions.  

A few friends of mine formed their own company (CareScientific) and had a paper published in AMCP recently.  From that article: 

  

VBID is receiving attention as a tool to increase medication adherence and lower medical costs. However, applying a “plausibility calculation” method to data generated from a recent VBID study involving reduction of drug copayments, this evaluation found that health plan sponsors are highly unlikely to experience net savings by implementing VBID programs, even under generous assumptions, for 2 reasons. First, the price elasticities of medications are too low to generate meaningful increases in medication adherence when copayments are lowered. Second, the potential reductions in the avoidable hospitalization and ER utilization rates across a commercially insured population with varying risk levels are generally not large enough to offset the additional plan costs of lowering copayments to increase medication adherence. 

I would also suggest looking at some of their tools that they’ve developed

So, getting back to how I’m tying in my reference to Public Enemy (rap musicians)… 

When I look at the upside for pharmaceutical manufacturers to grow the pie (get more Rxs through adherence), I often wonder why one of the default solutions is to fund copay waivers.  That happens by employers, health plans, and even the manufacturers.  There are many less expensive ways to get that lift by addressing things like reminders and tailoring information to individuals based on their personalized barriers. 

There are lots of high cost solutions that will make an impact.  The question is how to triage those resources to focus them on the right people.  It’s important to identify adherence risks (pro-active intervention) and adherence gaps (retrospective) and intervene with the patient.  

Here are a few of my other posts on this: 

 

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