The June 28, 2012 decision by the United States Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act may go down as one of those “Where were you when the ruling was announced?” type of moments. As both a self-proclaimed C-SPAN and political junkie, I followed the debate from the beginning, when President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) and the Healthcare and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HCERA), including reading the transcripts of the oral arguments made to the U.S. Supreme Court a few months back.
The reason for my interest was a key provision pertaining to prescription drug plans which, if enacted, will have an affect on Medicare Part-D and, therefore, on Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Asides (WCMSA). PPACA § 2502 pertains to the elimination of the exclusion of coverage of certain drugs that traditionally have not been compensable under Medicare Part-D.
Now that the healthcare law has been upheld, beginning in 2013 Medicare Part-D will begin to cover Benzodiazepines and barbiturates used for certain conditions such as epilepsy, cancer, or a chronic mental disorder. Currently, these medications are excluded from Medicare Part-D prescription drug plans.
Benzodiazepines are those medications such as Diazepam (Valium), Clonazepam (Klonopin), Alprazolam (Xanax), and barbiturates and include the commonly used medication Phenobarbital. Although we do not see use of Phenobarbital often in the WC arena, Benzodiazepines are utilized for many conditions in WC, such as anxiety, sleep, and muscle relaxation.
Normally, these medications would not generate any concern as they are typically dispensed as generic and are relatively inexpensive. However, the expansion of Medicare to cover them will have a direct impact on WCMSAs in two ways.
First, individuals may request the brand name Benzodiazepines in lieu of a generic at the time of fill. Average Wholesale Price (AWP) of brand name Valium costs about $3 per tablet and averages 15 times higher than the price of the generic equivalent Diazepam.
Second, although Benzodiazepines are abused less than opioids, there is now the potential for an increase in prescriptions for these medications. Benzodiazepines abuse is commonly seen when there is an established pattern of opioid abuse or with an illicit substance. Therefore, the potential for increased rates of abuse may rise. The WC community is already struggling with overuse of opioid medications and, conceivably, the new coverage could compound the problems the workers’ compensation community is seeing with the abuse of opioids.
These changes are certainly something to keep any eye on. They provide a strong argument for both early intervention strategies and prescription management and requires further close scrutiny on how it may affect the bottom line.
Further information on these and other changes can be found at:
About the Author: William F. Bell, Jr. is the Senior Clinical Pharmacy Specialist for Gould & Lamb, LLC. His primary responsibility is the review of a claimant’s pharmacotherapy regimen and the identification of off-label medications in a Medicare Set Aside Allocation. He has given numerous presentations on the subject of medication management and how it relates to Workers’ Compensation and Medicare Set Aside Claims. Bill has also authored two continuing education articles for the Pharmacist’s Letter, a nationally known education resource for practicing pharmacists.