Opioids in the MSA… Challenges and Strategies

Opioids in the MSA

If seeing the word opioids one more time doesn’t trigger some sort of reaction, whether sadness, anger, desperation, or possibly hope at what appears to be traction to ‘Turn the Tide’ of addiction, then I can only surmise that you must live under a rock! That certainly isn’t the case here, as in our world of MSP compliance, the word opioids is either read, spoken or written every single day. It permeates our industry and our lives.

The most recent example of the profound impact opioids continue to have on workers’ compensation, the MSP industry, and specifically on the Medicare Set Aside (MSA), came from a study released earlier this week by the California Workers’ Compensation Institute (http://www.cwci.org). Those who saw the study became painfully aware that in the state of California,

“Nearly 70% of federally mandated and approved Medicare settlements for injured workers require funding for decades of opioid use, often at dangerously high levels and in conjunction with other high-risk drugs.”

CWCI study and key findings

The CWCI examined data from 7,926 California WCMSA plans completed, submitted and approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in 2015 and 2016. To achieve a representative cross section of the state’s MSA cases, the authors compiled its dataset of 7,926 WCMSAs from four national vendors whose work product represented more than 50% of the state’s MSA market.

Overall findings were as follows:

  • $103,393 Average CMS approved WCMSA
  • $48,986 Average RX$ (47.6% of MSA)
  • 69.4% % WCMSAs with opioids (twice the rate of any other drug class)
  • Norco / Vicodin were included in 44% of the opioid inclusive WCMSAs

Also significant were CWCI’s findings when the authors compared opioids found in WCMSAs to a case-matched control group of closed workers’ comp permanent disability claims for similar injuries. This comparison demonstrated that the WCMSA allocations included much stronger opioids, with average morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) at 45 times the level used in the control group during the life of the claim. In addition, the WCMSAs with opioids required funding for an average daily dose of 54.7 morphine equivalents (MEDs) for a period of 20.9 years.

An industry’s call to action

The realization that opioids represent a major problem with the WCMSA did not come as a surprise to Tower, or to the National Alliance of MSA Professionals (NAMSAP). For the past 2 years, NAMSAP, through its Evidence Based Medicine and Data and Development committees, has been working tirelessly to educate the MSP community as to what happens in the MSA when opioids are prescribed over the life of the claim and remain as standard treatment when the MSA is prepared and submitted to CMS. NAMSAP has hosted multiple webinars to bring industry, regulatory and legislative experts together to discuss the opioid impact, and sent representatives to Washington to discuss our concerns with CMS. At our most recent annual conference, NAMSAP hosted Assistant Surgeon General, RADM Pamela Schweitzer, Pharm.D., BCACP, who shared both her concern for our situation, and her enthusiasm for our passion and our efforts.

With a singular focus among our members, I am hopeful that NAMSAP can successfully modify prescribing behavior and ultimately impact WCMSA outcomes. Unfortunately, this doesn’t benefit carriers, employers, third party administrators and injured workers today.

What are we doing now?

At Tower, the issue of opioid misuse and the importance of pre-MSA intervention has been in the forefront of our business model, our technology platform and our workflow from day 1. Our Pre-MSA Triage service identifies issues long before the MSA and provides practical recommendations to address obstacles. Our integrated technology platform tracks pharmacy triggers and interventions, escalates to our Internal Pharm. D. to contact the treating physician and diaries to track progress until treatment has been optimized. We then finalize the MSA and submit to CMS for approval.

The result of our workflow, our technology and the internal team of clinical, legal and medical experts we’ve built is a streamlined, end-to-end process that identifies issues, tracks progress and drives results for our clients.

Results achieved across all clients:

  • $59,070 Average CMS approved (Non-Zero) WCMSA$
  • 58.7% CMS approved WCMSAs with $0 Pharmacy
  • 22.6% CMS approved WCMSAs that include opioids
  • 61.4% MSA savings through integrated Rx interventions

These are numbers we track monthly through our CMS Reconciliation Module to confirm that CMS performance continues to improve. Our belief is that until prescribing habits change and best practices in opioid treatment can be implemented and enforced, our responsibility is to drive better outcomes through both formal intervention services and consultative oversight. Our clear focus is to limit pharmacy to those medications that are appropriate for long term use, to discontinue opioids where possible and to reduce MED to the lowest level possible when opioids must be included in the WCMSA.

Conclusion

In the words of HHS Secretary, Tom Price, M.D. and Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump,

“Ending the opioid epidemic will require an all hands on deck effort”.

Stay tuned.

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