Each time I send out the THCB Reader, our newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB (Sign up here!) I include a brief tidbits section. Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet! –Matthew Holt
As the average THCB reader is probably all too well aware I live in Marin County, California and therefore my kids are on amphetamine-based medication for ADHD. This is annoying as all get out because, as a controlled substance, this medication needs to be re-prescribed every month (no automatic refills allowed). In addition no 90 day supplies are allowed, and the kids must have checkups with their prescribing physician every 3 months (which are not cheap).
It’s not just prescribing which is complicated. Supply is an issue too and frequently pharmacies run out. This is furtherly frustrating because if one pharmacy is out it can’t move the Rx to another, even in the same chain like Walgreens or CVS. The new pharmacy requires a whole new prescription. I discovered last year that Alto Pharmacy, a VC backed home delivery pharmacy, will deliver controlled medications. This has saved me 12-24 visits to CVS in the past year.
But with a new year there are new problems. The “allowed” price, i.e. the price my insurer Blue Cross of Massachusetts had agreed with Alto Pharmacy (and other pharmacies) for the specific generic for one of my kids somehow went from $29 a month to $107. That’s the amount I actually pay until we hit our $4,500 family deductible. Incidentally because it’s a medication we still pay $10 a month after we hit the deductible.
Alto kept telling me that the cash price was around $50. But of course if we pay the lower cash price (either there or elsewhere using GoodRx) that doesn’t count against the deductible. So if we hit the deductible we are out the $50 (which works out to roughly $1200 per year for 2 kids). I kept asking Alto what had changed that made the cost go up? They kept not telling me an answer, other than it cost $107. I asked the good people at Health Tech Nerds slack group if they could guess what was going on. Their consensus was that the formulary tier had been changed. “But it’s a generic”, (I foolishly thought).
Finally I called the pharmacy number on BCBS Massachusetts website, and ended up talking to someone at CVS Caremark– their PBM. In the course of the 30 minute call they ran a dummy claim with several other pharmacies. All came back at the $107 number. They then looked up the formulary to see if it had changed. Meanwhile I looked at the formulary on the BCBS Mass website while this was going on. The medication was still tier 1. So why has the cost to me and perhaps to the Blues plan gone up from $29 a month to $107? (Yes that’s more than a factor of 3!)
While she was talking to me the Caremark rep was also able to Slack with several other colleagues–relatively advanced for an old world PBM I thought. Eventually the answer came back. The med was indeed tier one. But until we spent our deductible the med was tier 2. In other words if we were paying for the drug the price is $107. As soon as BCBS Massachusetts starts paying for it the price goes back to $29 (of which they only pay $19) as we have a $10 copay.
Why this has happened is beyond me? Is Caremark or BCBS Massachusetts suggesting another cheaper drug? I haven’t heard from them. Are they trying to discourage patients from getting to their deductibles? My cynical conclusion is that Caremark is trying to increase the revenue for CVS– its corporate pharmacy–which that accounts for 1/3 of all outpatient Rx.
Otherwise this pricing strategy makes no sense to me. Of course this is just another example of a completely opaque process. And that appears typical for American health care.
The study gave a large sample of kids the “Gordon Diagnostic System” GDS test of sustained concentration ability. This dates to the 80s and it consists of a box, with a button, and a display with three digits. There are three different tasks but the main one is a sustained attention test. The goal is to watch a series of numbers and quickly press the button whenever a “1” is followed by a “9”. Easy… but it takes concentration to do well.
Over the period of 2000-2006, the researchers gave the GDS to 445 healthy American kids, not diagnosed with any learning or behavioural disorder and not taking medication. They compared their scores to the standardized norms – which were based on a sample of American kids back in 1983.
The results showed that today’s kids scored pretty much the same, on average, as the 1983 kids. The average age-standardized scores were extremely close to the 1983 means, across the board. Children diagnosed with ADHD, as expected, scored much worse. Oddly, kids with an Autism Spectrum Disorder did just as badly as the ADHD ones.
The New York Times had a cover story recently reporting on the estimated prevalence of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health (they don’t identify the survey by name).
The story is going to get a lot of people interested in what is happening to children — every new datapoint on ADHD is noteworthy because it allows journalists to reopen the black box on childhood behavioral health disorders, and to raise the perennial alarm bells about over-diagnosis of children.
All of the issues raised in the article are valid. Many children with very mild impairments are getting a diagnosis, and enterprising drug companies are increasing demand for their product by implying that ADHD medications are a cure for generalized social impairments.
But — and this is critical – we have little systematic population-level data to compare the reported prevalence of a diagnosis with underlying data on ADHD symptoms in children. Continue reading…
Sigh of relief. The DSM 5 website announced recently that two of its most controversial proposals have finally been dropped. We have dodged bullets on Psychosis Risk and Mixed Anxiety Depression. Both are now definitively rejected as official DSM 5 diagnoses and instead are being exiled to the appendix. And one other piece of good news-the criteria set for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder has been tightened (not enough, but every little bit helps).
The world is a safer place now that ‘Psychosis Risk’ will not be in DSM 5. Its rejection saves our kids from the risk of unnecessary exposure to antipsychotic drugs (with their side effects of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and shortened life expectancy). ‘Psychosis Risk’ was the single worst DSM 5 proposal—we should all be grateful that DSM 5 has finally come to its senses in dropping it.
A top executive I know recently decided to take Inderal before making high-pressure/high-anxiety presentations. The impact was immediate. She felt more relaxed, confident and effective. Her people agreed.
Would she encourage a comparably anxious subordinate to take the drug? No. But if that employee’s anxiety really undermined his or her effectiveness, she’d share her story and make them aware of the Inderal option. She certainly wouldn’t disapprove of an employee seeking prescription help to become more productive.
No one in America thinks twice anymore if a colleague takes Prozac. (Roughly 10% of workers in Europe and the U.K. use antidepressants, as well). Caffeine has clearly become the (legal) stimulant of business choice and Starbucks its most profitable global pusher (two shots of espresso, please).
Increasingly, prescription ADHD drugs like Adderall, dedicated to improving attention deficits, are finding their way into gray market use by students looking for a cognitive edge. When one looks at existing and in-the-pipeline drugs for Alzheimer’s and other neurophysiological therapies for aging OECD populations with retirements delayed, the odds are that far more employees are going to be taking more drugs to get more work done better.
Performance-enhancing (or degraded performance-delaying) drugs will become as common as that revitalizing cup of afternoon coffee.
Should that be encouraged? Or should management pretend those options don’t exist?
Most managers would believe they’re doing a good thing if they encouraged a hard-of-hearing employee to explore a hearing aid or a visually-impaired colleague to consider glasses. By contrast, encouraging an under-performing subordinate to lose 25 pounds, get a hair transplant or contact-lenses would likely inspire a formal complaint to Human Resources and/or a possible lawsuit. Ironically, the money isn’t the issue here; the business norms associated with perceived cosmetic and aesthetic concerns are radically different from those attached to job performance and productivity.Continue reading…
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