As If I Have Nothing Better To Do

Ask most primary care physicians and they will probably tell you they waste a lot of time getting medications approved for their patients. I just dealt with this for one of my patients. He had been on it for four years, but they wanted some information from me. It seems they didn’t trust my judgement and wanted recent lab work to confirm he wasn’t taking too much, even though I had him on the lowest dose. The patient has insurance with Regence, and OptumRx manages the prescription benefit.

I called OptumRx and they first asked if I was a member or calling from a provider’s office. Well if they had separate numbers for each they wouldn’t have to waste time asking that question. Next they asked for my name and title. Then they asked for my NPI number. Once I gave it to them they looked up my name, so they could have skipped the question of my name and merely confirmed it after they had obtained it from the NPI number. Actually they should have already had my NPI number as it was attached to the prescription, that they paid for, and I’m sure is in their records already as they get that information when physicians apply to see (and bill) their patients.

Next they asked for the patient’s member ID number. I told them I didn’t have it, but I did have the reference number they gave when they asked for me to call. I was told they couldn’t use that information, so they asked for the patient’s name and date of birth. I gave it but the person couldn’t find the patient in their system. So she then asked for that reference number. After a while she said that patient wasn’t in the group she managed and she would have to pass me on to someone else.

The next person again asked some identifying information then wanted to know a test result the patient had, as well as the normal range for that test. I gave the three numbers and she said they would be in contact. Less than 30 minutes later it was approved, but that whole call took 9 minutes! That’s an incredible waste of my time just to give 3 numbers. They could have just asked my nurse to give the lab results to them over the phone or fax it to them and not have wasted my time at all. Besides the time I spent, there was also the time spent by a couple of staff members to get the message to me, and the subsequent fax confirming that it had been approved. We deal with lots of these things every day. If physicians were their paying customers, they’d be out of business with service like that.

Limiting Medication, But Not Really

Once again, CVS Caremark wasted my time. On 1/27/12 they sent me a copy of a letter they sent my patient saying they only provided a limited supply of tramadol to my patient because it’s subject to plan quantity limits. The directions I wrote said that she could take up to 8 pills per day. I only wrote for 60 pills, though, so I didn’t understand why the letter.

It took me about 10 minutes, but a customer representative said I could have ordered 240 pills at a time and it should have gone through. He didn’t know why the letter went out. I pointed out that besides the fact that his company wasted paper and postage mailing out the letters, it probably caused my patient to be concerned, and it wasted my time. He apologized and said the coverage should not be a problem. I said that surely this wasn’t the only mistaken letter they’ve sent out and said he should pass this on to his supervisor.

Mistakes happen, but the answer should not be, as Gilda Radner said, “Never mind!” Instead organizations should apologize and try to figure out why it happened, and what can be done to prevent it from happening in the future. When a pharmacy benefit manager, such as CVS Caremark, does otherwise, the message is they don’t care if they waste doctor’s time.

Prior Prior Authorization

I prescribed Chantix for one of my patients recently. CVS Caremark faxed us a, “CLINICAL PRIOR AUTHORIZATION CRITERIA REQUEST FORM”. It said to complete the form then fax it to them. Once received they would fax a, “DRUG SPECIFIC CRITERIA FORM”.

Why couldn’t they just have sent the specific criteria form in the first place? It didn’t take long to fill out the first form, but why should I have to sign my name twice for one medication for one patient? In addition someone had to take the time to sort through the office faxes and then get it to me, and my nurse had to fax it back, then had to send the fax confirmation to shredding, not to mention that we are paying for the paper, ink and electricity for these faxes.

Chantix only has one use, to help people stop smoking. Why should there be any criteria for coverage? Either cover it or don’t. Maybe they want to know if the patient tried generic bupropion first (actually they subsequently asked if they were taking it at the same time). Well they could have checked their records and seen that the patient was prescribed it in the past and conclude that it didn’t work. They asked if the patient would be monitored for depression. Sure, that is a reported side effect of the medication. But it’s not like CVS Caremark is asking if I know the side effect of all the medications I prescribe.

Pharmacy Benefit Managers like CVS Caremark should stop over burdening physicians with needless paperwork.

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

A patient of mine has been on cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxer, intermittently for over a year. Now her insurance, a Humana, Medicare plan, said they will no longer cover it. I pointed out to them that the medication is generic and at Costco one could purchase 100 pills for $9.93 without insurance. That would be enough to last her over 3 months. The Costco price for tizanidine they suggested I switch her to costs even more. They told me to check their website for what they cover, which I did. It said cyclobenzaprine is covered, though on some of their plans it requires prior authorization, which is what I tried to obtain. Besides the risk of switching a medication to something new, Humana wasted the time of my nurse and I for what would be a minuscule, if any savings. They would not budge other than saying she had to first try and fail tizanidine.

I understand the need to control costs, but forcing doctors to change from one cheap medication to another cheap one is not the way to do it. It doesn’t save significant amount of money, and it frustrates their customers (the patients) and their physicians.

Insurance companies such as Humana place no value on physicians time. I hope other physicians join me contesting such things from time to time. Don’t just accept the first no. Make them deal with extra phone calls and faxes when they are unreasonable. If enough of us protested, I think we could force them to change their ways. Occupy Medical Insurance Companies Movement, anyone?

Prior Authorization – License to Kill (our time)

A patient of mine informed me that her insurance didn’t want to cover a medication, and preferred a similar generic medication, which she previously tried but did not tolerate. She asked me to Call Humana’s  pharmacy review board. I usually leave such things to my nurse, but called them myself. A voice recognition system asked me for the patient’s account number and date of birth. After providing these, I was connected to a human, who asked for the same information. When I pointed out that I had just supplied the information, she said it didn’t come through, but made no offer to investigate why not.

If their menu system is not capable of transmitting such information to the computer screen of the people working for them, then they should not ask for the information using the automated system in the first place. This was not a onetime glitch, but something the nurses in my office encounter regularly. Our time is valuable. It’s bad enough that we have to justify our prescriptions, but it’s disrespectful of our time when we have to repeat ourselves with patient identification information. We have better things to do with our time.

Before deciding to post this, I decided to call again and give them a chance to say they would try and improve things. First I went to their website and clicked the For Providers link. I didn’t want to have to register, so I clicked the Customer Support button. Next I clicked the Contact Humana button. At the top it said they welcomed email, but one had to register to send messages securely. So I called their phone number for providers. Someone answered and wanted my patients ID number and date of birth. I informed I just had a question about the pre-authorization process, and not about a particular patient. She said that was another department and she transferred me, but not before asking for my name and call back number (I gave her my name, but told her I didn’t want a call back).

The next person again asked for my name and call back number. I explained my concern about being asked for the same patient information more than once. “That’s the process we’re required to follow,” she replied. I asked if they were interested in improving how they do things and she repeated what she had said. I asked if I could talk to someone who could improve the process. She told me they don’t have such a person!

I hope Humana and other pharmacy benefit managers take note. It may be your job to save your customers money, but you don’t have to waste physician’s and their office staff’s time. I hope the cynical view, that you do on it purpose to discourage prior authorizations, is not true.