As list prices for drugs continue to climb, formulary management is key to controlling costs and assuring access to the medications patients need.
Formularies list each drug covered by a specific plan. As new drugs come to market, formulary management allows plans to ensure the best clinical and financial value. Additionally, formulary managers track the evolving market on a daily basis and adjust accordingly, enabling us to capitalize on opportunities to manage costs.
Used in tandem with appropriate utilization management and complementary benefit design, formularies can be key to managing trend. While an effective formulary always opens access to clinically superior medications, it also meets the specific client’s needs. For example, some clients choose to offer more choices to their members, while others prefer to eliminate “me-too” options lacking added clinical benefit but carrying higher costs.
Without a well-managed formulary, plan sponsors will pay significantly more for medications, which results in higher cost-sharing for patients.
Building a formulary
An independent panel of clinical experts that focuses first on clinical factors should guide the approach to drug formulary management. They consider excluding a product only if there are proven, clinically comparable products available for members. Anyone with a clinical need for a medication that is not on the formulary should have a clear pathway to have that drug covered by requesting an exception.
By partnering with thousands of plan sponsors, Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) use their collective scale to negotiate deeper discounts on the medications members need. These prescription drug formularies preserve member choice by providing access to clinically effective – and cost-effective – generic, biosimilar and brand name drugs.
For example, the Inflammatory Conditions therapy class has consistently been the top driver of per member per year spending for employers, yet there are more therapy options than ever. Preferring a biosimilar product such as the immunosuppressive drug Inflectra®and excluding Remicade®, the innovator drug, holds the same promise of savings that generics did 20 years ago by yielding direct cost savings or competition that encourages lower prices.
Choosing the best formulary for plans and patients
Just as plans vary, so do formularies. Each plan determines which formulary, cost-sharing formula and appeals processes is best utilized. While many types of formularies are available on the market, they usually fall into these three basic types:
Open formulary: The plan sponsor pays a portion of the cost for all drugs, regardless of formulary status, although a plan sponsor may choose to exclude certain products, such as “lifestyle” drugs that treat concerns such as baldness instead of medical conditions.
- Closed formulary: The plan sponsor covers only drugs listed on the formulary. Non-formulary drugs are not covered unless approved through a formulary override process.
- Tiered formulary: Plan sponsors offer different copays or other financial incentives to encourage participants to use preferred formulary drugs but pay a portion of the cost of non-preferred drugs. For example, when a plan sponsor offers a three-tier benefit design, it may cover non-preferred, non-formulary products on its third tier with a higher copay.
When selected carefully and used in concert with other cost-mitigation programs, formularies can yield significant savings for plan sponsors and patients while helping achieve optimal clinical outcomes.