Study Examines California Workers’ Comp Prescription Drug Outcomes Under New Formulary

August 6, 2018

A new analysis offers a preliminary look at Utilization Review and Independent Medical Review outcomes involving pharmaceutical requests for California injured workers since the state implemented a workers’ compensation formulary in January.

The analysis from the California Workers’ Compensation Institute issued in late July shows that the proportion of UR decisions involving prescription drug requests fell from 44.5 percent in the pre-formulary period to 40.7 percent in the first five months of 2018.

At the same time, the percentage of UR decisions in which a prescription drug request was denied was unchanged at 14.6 percent, while 85.4 percent were either approved as submitted or approved with a modification, according to the CWCI study.

UR decisions involving opioid requests showed little change, edging down from 30.6 percent in the pre-formulary period to 30.0 percent after the formulary took effect, though the UR approval rate for opioids showed a sharper decline, falling from 72.3 percent to 68.8 percent.

Meanwhile, the percentage of IMR decisions involving UR modifications or denials of opioids increased from 29.2 percent prior to the formulary’s implementation to 33.6 percent under the formulary, while the IMR uphold rate for opioid modifications or denials showed a modest increase, rising from 90.1 percent to 91.4 percent, the study shows.

Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016 signed Assembly Bill 1124, which mandated the adoption of an evidence-based formulary for medications prescribed to California injured workers and calling on the state Division of Workers’ Compensation to incorporate the formulary into its Medical Treatment Utilization Schedule.

The intent of the legislation was to ensure that medications provided to injured workers meet evidence-based standards, and to reduce delays and frictional costs associated with pharmaceutical UR and IMR.

The CWCI analysis uses data from 141,643 pharmaceutical requests and UR decisions from the first five months of 2017 and 2018, and 58,604 IMR decisions from the first four months of those same two years to measure and compare pre- and post-formulary UR and IMR prescription drug outcomes.

The study represents a preliminary look at pharmaceutical UR and IMR data from the first few months that system stakeholders were transitioning into the formulary. More time is needed to identify changes in prescribing patterns and other aspects of the formulary regulations that could impact UR and IMR disputes, according to CWCI.

The analysis, “Initial UR and IMR Prescription Drug Outcomes Under the California Workers’ Comp Formulary,” is available on the CWCI website. It’s free to institute members and subscribers, while others can purchase a copy for $16.

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