CVS launches new initiative to lower drug costs for consumers
The US healthcare industry is undergoing a rapid transformation. Escalating healthcare costs, political uncertainty and technological innovation is leading to a number of mergers and acquisitions, as well as new processes to deliver care that is patient centered and tailored to the customer journey.
The cost of prescriptions across the US is continuing to rise, leading many to not take essential medication. CVS Health has now launched a new initiative to tackle the rise of drug prices, maximise prescription benefits and deliver innovative tools which will give consumers greater control and access to choose cheaper medications and lower prescription costs.
The company’s new tool, Pharmacy Rx Savings Finder, will enable retail pharmacists to evaluate and seamlessly review a patient's prescription regimen, medication history and insurance plan information to provide individual prescription savings opportunities. It also enhances existing savings opportunities the company's pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), CVS Caremark, offers its clients, such as preventive drug lists that make medications for many common, chronic conditions available.
"Armed with the information available through our Rx Savings Finder, more than 30,000 CVS pharmacists can play an important role by helping patients save money on their medications, providing advice on how and when to take them, and ultimately helping them achieve better health outcomes," Kevin Hourican, Executive Vice President, Retail Pharmacy, CVS Pharmacy, explained.
In addition, CVS Caremark provides real-time, member-specific drug costs and lower-cost alternatives to prescribers through their electronic health record system and members through the portal and newly updated app. These programs are part of CVS Health's commitment to helping consumers find the lowest cost prescription drugs by offering more pricing transparency across the board.
At the point-of-prescribing, providers are able to see the member-specific cost for a selected drug, based on a member's coverage, along with up to five lowest-cost, clinically appropriate therapeutic alternatives based on the patient's formulary..
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"Consumers are faced with higher prescription drug prices than ever before and many of them are now paying for a larger share of costs out of their own pockets at the pharmacy counter due to growth in high deductible health plans," said Thomas Moriarty, Chief Policy and External Affairs Officer, CVS Health.
"Until now, patients haven't had the appropriate tools available to them to help them manage these costs. To address this, CVS Health is giving expanded tools to patients, prescribers and pharmacists so they can evaluate prescription drug coverage in real-time and identify lower-cost alternatives. We are committed to finding the right drug at the lowest possible cost for patients to ensure they are able to access and stay on the medications they need. That's our promise."
Through The Rx Savings Finder, pharmacy teams will be shown:
- If the prescribed medication is on the patient's formulary and is the lowest cost option available.
- If there are lower-cost options covered under the patient's pharmacy benefit such as a generic medication or therapeutic alternative with equivalent efficacy of treatment.
- If the patient may be able to save money by filling a 90-day prescription rather than a 30-day prescription.
- If neither a generic nor a lower-cost alternative is available, other potential savings options for eligible or uninsured patients where allowed by applicable laws and regulation
Early results show that prescribers accessing the real-time benefits information through their electronic health record switched their patient's drug from a non-covered drug to a drug on formulary 85% of the time. In addition, when the patient's drug is covered, prescribers using real-time benefits switch their patient to a lower-cost alternative 30% of the time. When the prescriber switched to a lower-cost drug, the difference was approximately $75 per prescription.
The technology will “eliminate the friction that causes workflow interruption and prescription abandonment,” noted Tom Skelton, CEO of Surescripts. “We are effectively taking the burden off the patient,” he says, “and arming providers with actionable patient intelligence, so they can have a conversation with their patient while they’re still in their office.”
Driving sustainability in medical device production
Environmental protection and stewardship are rapidly rising to the top of the corporate agenda and medical device businesses are no exception. The healthcare sectors of the United States, Australia, Canada, and England combined emit an estimated 748 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year, an output greater than the carbon emissions of all but six nations worldwide. In order to curb this situation various European standards have been introduced.
The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE); Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS); Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) and the Energy Using Products (EuP) regulations have all significantly altered manufacturing processes, specific labelling, compliance with disposal restrictions, and creation of instructions for end-of-life management and recycling.
At the moment many medical devices are currently exempt from these regulations but several directives, including RoHS and WEEE, are in the process of being reviewed and could be applicable in future. This is especially relevant for devices that are ‘connected’ and have a digital monitoring component which then brings them under the regulatory purview of authorities that govern devices with electronic components.
Safety, Usability and Sustainability
While medical device manufacturers have been working to respond to increasing demand for environmental sustainability from the market, they also have to contend with a key element of their mission: to ensure safety and usability to healthcare workers and patients. Parenteral and other invasive devices are strictly regulated to help reduce the risk of Healthcare Acquired Infection which typically runs as high as 5% and 8% in most developed countries, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. As a result, they typically contain disposable single-use plastic elements.
At the same time, many hospitals and purchasing organisations have started to recognise that sustainable purchasing practices play a pivotal role in reducing costs over time. Many GPOs have appointed and empowered Senior Directors of Environmentally Preferred Sourcing who are successfully implementing the sustainable purchasing business case. In addition global pharmaceutical companies are increasingly creating senior positions with sustainability objectives as key to the role.
Medical device disposal is a particularly burning issue; generally carried out through incineration in the EU, it typically releases nitrous oxide, as well as known carcinogens including polychlorinated biphenyls, furans and dioxins. Some of the strategies trialled by manufacturers to reduce waste matter destined to incineration include sterilisation and reprocessing.
Sterilisation, however, falls short on the environmental front, and may consume more energy and produce more emissions than incineration itself. In the United States for example, 50% of all sterile medical devices are sterilised with ethylene oxide but since this method releases harmful emissions, the US Food and Drug Administration is now encouraging the development of new methods or technologies. Many other established sterilisation methods use glutaraldehyde that is not only harmful to the environment but also tends to be regulated by strict usage and disposal rules such as COSSH guidelines.
Focus on Recycling
The outlook on recycling is changing significantly thanks to new research and technologies enabling, for example, monomer extraction. Recycled polymers can be broken down to their constituent monomers promoting an almost limitless recyclability of some polymers. In addition to this, Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), renewable polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) can be recycled several times without losing critical properties.
Reducing the impact of packaging can also significantly reduce the materials that need to be dealt with through either waste or recycling. Packaging manufacturers are decreasing packaging volume by favouring sealed trays instead of pouches, laser-etching instructions directly on to the tray where regulation permits it, or reducing the number of components required overall. In addition to this, for recycling plans to be successful it important to have a full understanding of the practices surrounding device use and to establish, where possible, closed loop recycling systems that recover the waste materials from hospitals or patients and bring them back into the recycling process.
Sustainable Manufacturing: Technology and Research
Greater employment of fast degrading plastics or material from other sources is a key strategy to reduce harmful pollutants both at production and disposal stage. Bio-based materials can in fact offset the carbon emitted during processing as the monomer source grows, and a growing range of sources for bio based monomers -such as wood pulp or sugar cane- is available. However, when assessing the most suitable material for a part, the entire lifecycle of the product needs to be considered. For example: bio-degradable polymers can contaminate a recycling stream and emit methane when incinerated.
The use of environmentally friendly materials should also be supported by an increase in clean renewable energy sources. Lower energy consumption means fewer carbon emissions but also financial savings, making this an appealing measure for manufacturers. New technologies are proving a major gamechanger on this front, helping manufacturers marry their environmental stewardship with cost savings and efficiency. 3D printing, for example, can help develop optimum product moulds more quickly, refining production parameters to minimise raw materials volumes and maximising output productivity.
Similarly, ‘digital twin’ production software uses inline sensors to create a virtual, real-time mirror of the production environment to enable inline refinements. The objective is to achieve “zero defect”, waste-free manufacturing. In addition to this, LEAN manufacturing methodologies are already helping to optimise inventory management and reduce overproduction.
Sustainability by Design
It is increasingly clear that effective environmental sustainability in the medical device sector cannot exist without a full view of the product life cycle from concept development, material selection, design and engineering to manufacturing, packaging, transportation, sales, use, and end-of-life disposal. These evaluations are typically made for factors such as manufacturing efficiency, time to market, or safety and regulatory compliance, packaging and transportation costs, but should be extended to energy efficiency and environmental impact by means such as life cycle analysis.
In addition to this, with devices rapidly becoming more digitally connected, developers need to be aware that the costs of disposable electronics would simply not be viable, or indeed acceptable in the light of electronics disposal regulations. Design therefore should focus on creating a simple, repeatable interface between the two component sections so as not to impair the functionality or efficacy. As reducing waste and harmful emissions continues to exert businesses and governments globally, the medical devices industry cannot stand by. The environmental but also commercial implications of inaction are too serious and the array of solutions now available is exciting and diverse.