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Tag: Matthew Holt

Matthew’s health care tidbits: How do you tell the price of a drug?

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.

Matthew’s health care tidbits: My retina & what it tells us about primary care

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

I had a little scare the other night. I was driving home from a weekend in the mountains and I asked my wife if she saw that flashing light. No it wasn’t the cops, and no she hadn’t seen it. Turns out that I had a bright flash if I moved my eye a certain way. Oh, well I assumed I was tired and a good night’s sleep would fix it.

Next morning the flash was still there when I looked quickly to the left and a few weird floaters had appeared. I headed to the Mayo Clinic website and it looked to me like I had a detaching retina. I got on the urgent visit video with One Medical. The NP who answered said it sounded like I might have retina problems and I should get it checked by my ophthalmologist. But my eyesight has always been great (other than me needing reading glasses in my old age) and I haven’t got one. So who, I asked, do you recommend?

Here we fall into the crux of the problem. One Medical is an excellent primary care service. So good that Amazon bought it for $3bn. But it’s not a multi-specialty group nor is it a system like Kaiser. The answer was, “we don’t really recommend anyone–that’s not how it works.” The NP ended up looking up ophthalmologists near me & sent me a name as a referral in their app. But that’s not a link to anything and it wasn’t one chosen through some analytical process of seeking quality excellence.

I looked up MarinHealth (my local hospital)’s website and searched ophthalmology. That referred name was on it. I called. The doctor was out this week. They gave me another name. That doctor’s office gave me another name and that third office could see me that same day. I felt some pressure to see them right away as in the case of a detached retina Mayo says “ Contacting an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) right away can help save your vision”. The good news is having spent a couple of hours at the ophthalmologist’s my retina needs watchful waiting not surgery.

But the bad news is that for me, like 90% of Americans, there’s no easy way to get referred into a trustworthy system for specialty care. This can be even worse. My friend Sarah McDonald explains in her book The Cancer Channel how, after being diagnosed with a rare incurable cancer by a head & neck surgeon, the all encompassing support she received was to be given the number of a specialist at UCSF who couldn’t even talk to her for 3 weeks.

Mike Magee talks about the role of the health care system being to reduce patients’ “fear and worry”. Our lack of a specialty care referral system, especially when potentially serious and urgent care is on the line, is a big reason why there is so much fear and worry. I wish I had a concierge advocacy system like Included Health or Transcarent which could get me to the right place and work with me through the experience. But like most Americans at the time I need reassurance the most I’m calling a list of phone numbers hoping someone can see me.

We have primary care, we have specialty care. But we don’t have a system that cares.

THCB Quickbite: Zak Holdsworth, CEO, Hint Health

Zak Holdsworth has been delivering tech and services support for the growing Direct Primary Care (DPC) movement for 8 years. His company Hint Health supplies all the back office and now an EMR for those primary care doctors who are opting out of the insurance system and charging $1,000 a year (give or take) to manage all the care for their patients. It’s a niche but an interesting niche that is growing at 30-40% a year, and Zak’s company is helping their customers as they both start in DPC and move that care management downstream, including building out a care services cash market for their patients.–Matthew Holt

THCB Quickbite: Rami Karjian CEO & Pippa Shulman CMO, Medically Home

Another quickbite from the end of last year. I caught up with Rami Karjian CEO & Pippa Shulman CMO, Medically Home. The company has grown a lot since its early days growing out of Atrius Medical Group in Boston. Now they are delivering hospital at home tools and services in 19 states and have had huge investments from Mayo, Kaiser and others. Covid, as you can imagine, helped a bit! Costs are down, outcomes are up, and 20-30% of hospital care could be heading to the home. This one looks real–Matthew Holt

THCB Gang Episode 111, Thursday December 22

It’s the Christmas special THCB Gang where we reviewed the year! Joining Matthew Holt (@boltyboy) on #THCBGang on Thursday December 22 were privacy expert Deven McGraw (@healthprivacy), fierce patient activist Casey Quinlan (@MightyCasey); Jennifer Benz (@Jenbenz); and medical historian Mike Magee (@drmikemagee). And then in our end of year tradition a few other gang members dropped in towards the end.

You can see the video below & if you’d rather listen than watch, the audio is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels.

THCB Gang Episode 110, Thursday December 15

Joining Matthew Holt (@boltyboy) on #THCBGang on Thursday December 15 were patient safety expert and all around wit Michael Millenson (@mlmillenson); policy expert consultant/author Rosemarie Day (@Rosemarie_Day1); writer Kim Bellard (@kimbbellard), consumer expert Lygeia Riccardi (@Lygeia) radiologist Saurabh Jha (@RogueRad), and Olympic rower for 2 countries and all around dynamo Jennifer Goldsack, (@GoldsackJen). It was a full house and lots of fun, with a lot wrapped round the theme of protecting consumers (or not) online.

You can see the video below & if you’d rather listen than watch, the audio is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels.

THCB Gang Episode 109, Thursday December 8, 1pm PT 4pm ET

Joining Matthew Holt (@boltyboy) on #THCBGang on Thursday December 8 will be futurist Jeff Goldsmith; privacy expert Deven McGraw (@healthprivacy), and employer & care consultant Brian Klepper (@bklepper1). Deven has a bunch of insights from her new study on health data access!

You can see the video below & if you’d rather listen than watch, the audio is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels.

THCB Gang Episode 108, Thursday December 1

Joining Matthew Holt (@boltyboy) on #THCBGang on Thursday November 17 were futurist Jeff Goldsmith; THCB regular writer and ponderer of odd juxtapositions Kim Bellard (@kimbbellard); patient safety expert and all around wit Michael Millenson (@mlmillenson); fierce patient activist Casey Quinlan (@MightyCasey); and Olympic rower for 2 countries and all around dynamo Jennifer Goldsack, (@GoldsackJen). This was quite the conversation!

You can see the video below & if you’d rather listen than watch, the audio is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels.

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