VBID's Fuzzy Factors

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  • 02/14/2014

New research conducted by CVS Caremark and Brigham and Women's Hospital (and published online in Health Affairs) identifies five key features of popular Value-Based Insurance Design (VBID) plans that are associated with the greatest impact on medication adherence.  The study, which will also appear in the journal's March issue, was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Changes in Health Care Financing and Organization (HCFO) Initiative.

The philosophy is sound – but the factors are a bit fuzzy. And this isn’t surprising as the VBID model is still in in its design infancy.

Rather than encouraging patients to actively consider and bear the cost of prescription medications via copayments, co-insurance and deductibles, VBID plans reduce the cost to the patient for medications that offer higher clinical benefit.

The theory is that using medication that actually improves health outcomes will reduce overall health care spending. Correct! For example, patients in a VBID plan who have a chronic disease such as high blood pressure would have their out-of-pocket costs (e.g., copay) significantly reduced or eliminated for essential medications to treat their condition.

This is important – but it’s not new. As I wrote almost exactly four years ago in an op-ed:

Over the past several years, insurance companies have become increasingly reluctant to foot the bill for brand-name medications. Indeed, since 2000, co-pays have increased four times faster than prescription drug prices.

Patients respond to higher co-pays by skipping their meds more often. In 2003, researchers at the University of Oregon studied the effects of introducing a $2 to $3 co-pay for prescription meds among 17,000 patients. Adherence to treatment dropped by 17 percent.

Some insurers are even refusing to cover new prescription drugs. According to a study from Wolter Kluwer Health, insurers’ denial rate for brand-name meds was 10.8 percent at the end of 2008 — a 21 percent jump from the year before.

Abandoning treatment — a practice known as "non-adherence” — has serious consequences for patient health. For instance, people with hypertension who neglect their meds are more than five times more likely to experience a poor clinical outcome than those who don’t. Heart disease patients are 1.5 times more likely.

It also results in higher medical costs, as patients who go off their meds often end up in the hospital. Minor conditions that might have been controlled by inexpensive medications can sometimes balloon into life-threatening illnesses that require surgery or other costly treatments.

This makes sense. After all, a daily cholesterol-lowering drug is far less expensive than emergency heart surgery.

(My complete op-ed can be found here.)

Now, as to the “factors.”

According to Niteesh Choudhry, MD, PhD, associate physician, Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, Brigham and Women's Hospital and associate professor, Harvard Medical School and the lead author of the study, "The results show that several specific features can improve adherence from between two to five percentage points and this information can help influence how future copayment reduction plans are structured for optimal benefit."

The researchers evaluated 76 VBID plans provided by CVS Caremark to 33 unique plan sponsors and involving more than 274,000 patients. Based on the analysis, five key features were found to have a greater impact on adherence. These included:

  • More generous VBID plans (e.g., those plans that had no cost-sharing for generic drugs and low monthly copayments of < or = $10 or co-insurance rates of < or = $15 for brand-name medications),
  • Plans that targeted high-risk patients,
  • Plans that had concurrent wellness programs,
  • Plans that did not have concurrent disease management programs, and
  • Plans that made the benefit available only by mail order, offering 90 day prescriptions.

That’s a lot of work by a lot of smart folks to develop some pretty fuzzy factors. But it’s a good start.

As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.                               
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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