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Association between health system specialty pharmacy use and health care costs among national sample of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries

Journal of Managed Care + Specialty Pharmacy (JMCP) | Volume 28 Issue (2)


BACKGROUND: Health care expenditures are growing rapidly. There is a growing body of literature showing that health system specialty pharmacy is associated with improvement in clinical outcomes; however, there is a lack of data on its effect on health care costs and utilization.

OBJECTIVE: To perform exploratory research assessing the association between health system specialty pharmacy use and health care costs and utilization.

METHODS: A retrospective cohort study was conducted examining medical and pharmacy claims from 2018 and 2019 of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries. Optum Advisory Service’s proprietary deidentified Normative Health Information database was used, which includes claims, membership, and provider data for 12.6 million Medicare Advantage members. Members who filled a prescription at a health system specialty pharmacy and had a specialty provider participating in the health system specialty pharmacy care model in clinic were assigned to the intervention group. Members who did not use a health system specialty pharmacy but had the same provider (provider benchmark group) or different provider (network benchmark group) were considered as comparisons. The network benchmark group was further refined to match variation in health care cost due to geography. The primary outcome measure was total health care costs (across the medical and pharmacy benefit) on a per-patient per-month basis. Secondary outcomes were selected utilization drivers and cost subcomponents. Cost and utilization metrics were calculated on a risk-adjusted basis using Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Hierarchical Condition Categories (CMS-HCC) risk score methodology. Differences were assessed for categorical variables with chi-square tests, and 2-tailed t-tests were used for continuous variables.

RESULTS: Of the analytic sample of 9,780 members used in this study, 208 (2.1%) used health system specialty pharmacy services. During the 2018 baseline period, total health care costs and utilization were similar after CMS-HCC risk score adjustment ($9,520 among health system specialty pharmacy users; $8,691 among the provider benchmark group; $9,510 among the network benchmark group) but lower in 2019 ($7,060, $7,683, and $8,152, respectively). The differences in 2019 were primarily driven by savings in pharmacy and free-standing physician-related costs.

CONCLUSIONS: Use of a health system specialty pharmacy is associated with a lower health care cost. Further study is required to analyze how drug and disease-specific interactions influence total health care costs and utilization for health system specialty pharmacy populations.

DISCLOSURES: This study was funded by Shields Health Solutions and completed with Optum Advisory Services, which provided all analysis and was the sole source of data. University of Massachusetts Medical School investigators were independent context experts, who volunteered their time for this study. Hellems is employed by Optum Advisory Services; Fasching and Smith are employed by Shields Health Solutions; and Soni and McManus are employed by the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Soni received support from the National Institute of General Medical Science (T32GM107000), National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (TL1-TR001454), and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1F30HD091975-03). McManus’s time was supported by R01HL126911, R01HL137734, R01HL137794, R01HL135219, R01HL136660, U54HL143541 from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. McManus has received research support from Bristol Myers Squibb, Care Evolution, Samsung, Apple Computer, Pfizer, Biotronik, Boehringer Ingelheim, Philips Research Institute, Flexcon, Fitbit; has consulted for Bristol Myers Squibb, Pfizer, Philips, Samsung Electronics, Rose Consulting, Boston Biomedical Associates, and FlexCon; and is also a member of the Operations Committee and Steering Committee for the GUARD-AF Study (NCT04126486), sponsored by Bristol Meyers Squibb and Pfizer. The other authors have nothing additional to disclose.

The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH. The funders played no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Sarah S Hellems, FSA, MAAA, CERA, Apurv Soni, MD, PhD, Dale Fasching, PharmD, Brian S Smith, PharmD, Dave D McManus, MD, ScM

Optum Advisory Services, Minneapolis, MN.

Department of Medicine and Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA.

Shields Health Solutions, Stoughton, MA.

J Manag Care Spec Pharm, 2022 Feb;28(2):244-254.

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