Blog | Thursday, March 31, 2011

QD: News Every Day--Brand-name drug requests lead to less compliance, more costs

Patients are less likely to fill a prescription when the brand name drug is requested than a generic, even if the patients requested the brands themselves. Researchers studied the noncompliance rate among retail pharmacy customers to discover that "dispense as written" instructions led to 50% greater odds of not filling the script and billions in higher costs for patients and insurance.

The costs issues also affect Medicaid savings, according to a second study, since generic drugs could generate savings without requiring an overhaul to the health care system.

While every state has generic substitution laws, doctors can override them on the script and patients can do so at the pharmacy. Even though the conscious choice to select a brand drug might suggest willingness to take it, studies show it actually leads to less compliance.

Researchers studied 5.6 million prescriptions for more than 2 million patients receiving drugs through a pharmacy benefits manager from any pharmacy in January 2009. Claims were defined as physician-assigned dispense as written (2.7%), patient-assigned dispense as written (2%), or neither. Results appeared in the American Journal of Medicine

A majority of prescriptions designated as dispense as written by physicians were products for which no generic was available.

"It is interesting to observe that physicians request dispense as written frequently for single-source branded products, medications for which no generics could be automatically substituted," the authors wrote. "Physicians with a strong preference for branded medications may not be aware of whether a generic is available and may request the branded agent as a preventive measure. Alternatively, physicians may request the branded medication to ensure that pharmacists do not substitute a different medication in the class," even though therapeutic substitution isn't allowed without contacting the physician.

Most patient requests for the brand name were for multi-source brands, among patients 55 to 74 years of age, for maintenance medications, and almost exclusively at retail pharmacies.

Patients and their insurance plans, respectively, paid an average of $17.90 and $26.67 for generic medications, $49.50 and $158.25 for single-source brands, and $44.50 and $135.26 for multi-source brands. Authors noted that in the one month of their study, substituting generics for the multi-source brands would have saved patients $1.7 million and the health plans $10.6 million. Scaling that assumption upward to the 3.6 billion prescriptions filled annually, patients could save $1.2 billion annually and health system costs could save $7.7 billion.

Also of note:
--Older physicians were more likely to request dispense as written than younger ones, and patients age 55 to 74 years were most likely to receive physician dispense as written prescriptions.
--Specialists were 78.5% more likely to write brand-name scripts (P <.001). ---Among new prescriptions for chronic medications, physicians requesting brands (odds ratio 1.50, P<.001) and patients requesting brands (odds ratio 1.60, P<.001) were associated with greater odds that patients did not fill the prescription.
--Compared with oral antidiabetics, patient requests for the brand name were more common for ulcer agents (OR 6.1), hypnotics (OR 4.3), migraine medications (OR 14.4), contraceptives (OR 3.7), thyroid medications (OR 16.5), estrogens (OR 3.6), anticonvulsants (OR 4.8), anticoagulants (OR 4.5), and analgesics (OR 4.5) (all P<.001).

A second working paper released by the American Enterprise Institute analyzed 2009 Medicaid drug data and identified 20 multi‐source drugs in which the generic could generate savings.

In 2009, states’ Medicaid programs paid $329 million more for brand names when alternatives were available, according to the report. Total spending on these 20 drugs was approximately $1.5 billion, so Medicaid overspent by 22% ($1.5 billion versus $1.17 billion). While Medicaid is a joint federal‐state program, the federal share is generally about 57% of the total.

Overspending in 2009 attributable to drugs with generics launched in 2008 totaled $142 million, the report said. Overspending from products with generic launches during 2009 totaled $94 million ($129 million on an annualized basis, given that the generics launched in 2009 were not available for the entire year). Thus, nearly three‐fourths of total identified waste is for spending on drugs with generic launches during or after 2008. However, there are important exceptions to this observation, such as Flonase and Duragesic, which have faced generic competition since 2006 and 2007, respectively.

Ten more drugs go off-patent in the next two years: Actos, Combivir, Concerta, Lexapro, Lipitor, Plavix, Seroquel, Singulair, Xopenex, and Zyprexa. Assuming that substitution rates are 70% to 80% and that the generics are half the price, Medicaid programs could overspend by $289 million to $433 million.

"The approach of a significant 'patent cliff,' when many blockbuster brand drugs will begin to face generic competition upon losing patent protection in 2011 and 2012, makes the likely future overspending in this program even greater if new policies are not promptly adopted," wrote the author.

The report also noted:

--Among the 20 drugs studied, Medicaid spent an average of $95 more per prescription.
--Most of the overspending (85%) was concentrated in eight identified chemical compounds, for which states spent roughly $279 million more.
--The greatest total amount of unnecessary spending was in the larger states of California ($102 million), Texas ($31 million), Georgia ($25 million), and Ohio ($21 million). The smaller states spent more per person, Vermont and Iowa ($31 per enrollee in each state), Maine ($18 per enrollee), and New Hampshire ($17 per enrollee).