WVPA News: August 15

Highmark Health reported earning $627 million in revenue over expenses the first half of the year thanks to growth in the company’s commercial and government business. Overall, the company has 4.4 million health plan customers. (All this while WV pharmacies witness declining profits.)

Buprenorphine is a drug that curbs cravings and treats the symptoms of withdrawal from opioid addiction. One of the common brand name drugs that contains it, Suboxone, combines the buprenorphine with naloxone. Combined with congnitive behavioral therapy, buprenorphine is one of three FDA-approved medicines considered the gold standard for opioid-addiction treatment.

According to federal law, doctors must apply for a special waiver from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to prescribe buprenorphine. To get the waiver, a doctor must undergo eight hours of training and, initially can prescribe the drug to only a maximum of 30 patients at any one time. Given the constraints, many doctors don’t bother. But, according to people active in addressing the opioid crisis, some pharmacists also prevent opioid users who need buprenorphine from getting it.

Allscripts reported strong second-quarter bookings of $276 million up 31% from the prior-year period. Allscripts has reached tentative deal with the Department of Justice to pay $145 million to settle an investigation into Practice Fusion’s compliance with the Anti-Kickback Statute and HIPAA. Practice Fusion is an electronic health records company owned by Allscripts.

Data released by the CDC indicates that among adults ages 40-79 in the U.S., 69% used one or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days and 22.4% used five or more. In comparison, 65.5% Canadian adults in that same age group used one or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days and 18.8% used five or more. Antidepressants and cholesterol-lowering drugs were more common among Americans.

Employers project that the total cost of health benefits will rise 5% in 2020. When counting both premiums and out-of-pocket costs, healthcare is expected to cost $14,642 per employee this year and rise to $15,375 in 2020 with employers paying for 70% of the costs.

Legal fentanyl sold and dispensed by pharmacists decreased by almost 30% from 2014 to 2017, but overdose deaths on synthetic opioids like fentanyl increased 414% in the same time frame.

For the first time, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of health experts, has issued a draft recommendation that primary care doctors screen their patients for drug use.

In Memorial: Pharmacist Roger Lee Booth, owner of a pharmacy in Boone Country, died August 11. Roger entered the Marine Corps at age 18. While in Vietnam and only eight days until deployment home, he was shelled in a bunker and left paralyzed from the waist down. Roger went on to enroll in rehab, then earned a degree in chemistry before completing pharmacy at WVU School of Pharmacy. He opened his pharmacy in 1976 and provided pharmacy services to his patients from his wheelchair. I am conveying this because Roger was a friend. Being a vet, I am proud to honor his service.