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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Know Your Insurance Formulary

photo source: Shutterstock
When kids with a chronic illness (migraines, asthma, ADHD, acne) need a first-time prescription, I often ask the parents to look at their formulary first. This upsets some parents because they want to start something today, but I refuse to play the phone tag game for the next week.

What do I mean?

Most diseases have more than one medication that can be used to treat the condition. Many of these medicines are very expensive, and insurance companies put them in various tiers depending on how much they pay for the medicine.  The more they are contracted to pay, the higher the tier, resulting in a higher copay for the consumer. This varies from company to company, so what someone with a prescription plan from Company A has different costs than someone with a plan from Company B.  Even different plans within company A vary.  High deductible plans add in even more confusion because your cost depends on how much you've already spent.

I saw a formulary for one company recently that the medicine was generic tier for those under 18 years, but over 19 years it needs a prior authorization. Huh? The condition doesn't change with the birthday. The medicine is approved for both age groups. Why they have that prior authorization requirement is a puzzle to me.

I simply can't keep all the plans straight. Ideally electronic records would link to each insurance plan's formulary and let us know immediately how much a prescription will cost, but they don't.  Even pharmacies can't give the cost until they "run it through".  There are simply too many insurance plans.

So if you think you will need a long term prescription for a long term problem, I simply ask that you do your homework first. The insurance company won't tell me what your plan says. You must ask.  When we know the formulary, we can discuss the best option to begin treatment.  When 2 medicines have equal risks and benefits for a condition, we will choose the least expensive. If the lesser expensive options don't work, we may end up on a higher cost medicine. At that point other things have been tried and the cost is more acceptable.

Without the formulary, what tends to happen is I write for Drug A. When the parent goes to the pharmacy to pick it up, it is too much money, so they call use to change. Of course they don't know what to change to, so I change to Drug B.  Same story.  Turns out, it will be Drug E that is the lowest tier. Parents are frustrated with me for not giving the "right" one, but I am blind. Drug A was cheapest on the last plan I wrote a script for. Who knew yours is different?  This leads to too many trips to the pharmacy and phone calls back and forth. Everyone is frustrated and time is lost. It is faster to spend some time in advance finding out what to try first!  Please.

Believe me, this is frustrating for all of us. I wrote about my personal experience with formularies in Health Insurance Woes.  As an update to that, we are now using a mail order pharmacy. It is still much more than our last plan, but better than local pharmacies.