Pharmacists, insurers get synched
By EVAN POPP
For the Times Argus | July 19,2014
BARRE — In a move pharmacists and insurers believe will help patients better manage multiple prescriptions, pharmacies may now help patients synchronize their medications to avoid unnecessary trips to the drug store.
The program, known as pharmacy synchronization, allows patients who previously had different dates for refills of various medications to obtain refills all on the same day. Pharmacists would partially fill some prescriptions in order to synch all of their customer’s prescriptions.
The idea was first introduced in the state by Rutland Sen. Kevin Mullin in January. However, before it was written into a law, Vermont’s two insurance companies — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Health Care — said they would allow patients to synch their medications at no additional cost without needing a legislative mandate.
Mullin brought forward the idea after reading about a similar program in Connecticut. He also said the idea was spurred because of his father-in-law, who takes a multitude of different pills.
“It’s very confusing, especially for older people,” Mullin said. “It just made sense what they did in Connecticut, to let patients pick up their prescriptions all at once.”
Mullin said he introduced the idea in the Senate to “stimulate a conversation,” and was glad to see BCBSVT and MVP step in before a law was passed.
“Whenever you can get people to do the right thing, I think that’s good,” he said.
Someone who has already experienced a positive effect from the program is Ashley Hudson, a patient who has had her medications synched. She said synchronization has made her life a lot easier.
“It’s worry free,” she said in an email on Thursday. “I now get all of my medication together at the same time. I’m not running out of one thing one week, then needing to go back to the pharmacy the following two weeks. For people with hectic lives who work long hours and can’t always get to the pharmacy before they close, this program is fabulous.”
Hudson said she has had her medication synchronized for about a year now. She said that previously, all her prescriptions would run out at different times, making it necessary for her to go to the pharmacy seemingly every week. And there were other problems, as well.
“If I didn’t pay attention to the bottles, a prescription would run out,” Hudson said. “So, I would go without the meds for a day or two, after calling my doctor for refills. Then sometimes they would tell me that I needed to come see the doctor before they would fill my meds. Worst-case scenario, I would go up to two weeks without my meds. Unfortunately, being without them caused terrible side effects.”
Now, Hudson said she receives a call from the pharmacy when her prescriptions are close to running out. Marty Irons, a member of Vermont Pharmacists Association’s board of directors, said the program is an excellent idea. He said there are thousands of patients in Vermont who have 12 or more different prescriptions, and this program makes it far easier for them to pick up and manage their medications.
“Overall, the benefit will be compliance to the prescriptions,” Irons said. “People are no longer missing doses because they can’t get to the pharmacy.”
However, Irons said the problem is, “Nobody knows about this.” He said a better job needs to be done to let patients know about the synchronization program.
Irons also thinks an opportunity was missed by not passing a legislative mandate and instead letting commercial insurance companies control the implementation of the program. According to Irons, the initiative only allows people with commercial insurance to synch their medications. Irons said this leaves out patients on the federal program, Medicare Part D — people Irons believes are most in need of the synchronization program. Medicare Part D provides prescription drug coverage for seniors, disabled patients and people with permanent kidney failure.
“They’ve excluded the biggest group of patients,” he said. “This program only pertains to people with commercial insurance.”
Irons thinks it would have been better if the Legislature had passed a law stating all patients be allowed to synch their chronic medications at no additional cost.
Another supporter of the program is BCBSVT Director of Government and Public Relations Cory Gustafson, who said BCBSVT thought the initiative was common sense. According to Gustafson, the company told the Senate it would participate in the program without a mandate, with the understanding that pharmacists would have to call BCBSVT before synching a patient’s medications. Gustafson said in the future the company would look to move to a more automated system for synchronization.
Jacqueline Marciniak, MVP Health Care associate director of public relations, echoed Gustafson’s sentiments. Marciniak said MVP is now manually processing each synchronization request. However, on Jan. 1, 2015, the company will have an automated system set up.
To Gustafson, the synchronization program will help patients be able to take their medications more regularly.
“We are really committed to patient adherence to treatment and medication plans, and we think this program really couldn’t hurt in this process,” he said. “It makes logical sense.”
Gustafson said BCBSVT will include information about the pharmacy synchronization program in its quarterly newsletter, which will go out within the month.
According to Gustafson, the program will have some costs that the company hasn’t calculated yet. However, he said BCBSVT is not concerned about the cost and that no additional financial burden will fall on patients.
Previously, patients would have had to pay extra if they wanted to avoid additional trips to the pharmacy and pick up their medication all at once. But now, according to Jill Donahue, owner and pharmacist of the Northfield Pharmacy, patients will be able to synch their medications while staying on the same payment plans.
Donahue agreed with Gustafson, saying she believes the program will make it simpler for patients to manage and adhere to their medication regimens.
“It is a way of making our process of doing the prescription easier,” she said. “We’re able to ensure that we have the proper quantity to dispense when the patient comes to pick it up. We’re just trying to make it a little more convenient for the patient and make the patient more compliant with taking medicine.”
Donahue said patients are not required to synch their medications, but she will recommend it to people who pick up prescriptions frequently.
According to Donahue, pharmacists typically give out prescriptions that last 30 to 90 days. In order to synch medications, the pharmacy would give patients a smaller quantity to match up the dates when they need refills.
James Marmer, pharmacy supervisor at Woodstock Pharmacy and executive director of the Vermont Pharmacists Association, also said the initiative is a great idea. However, he said that the Pharmacists Association was not consulted when the agreement between the Legislature and insurance companies was being discussed. Marmer said he wished the insurers had sat down and talked with the association before implementing the program.
“I would have appreciated if they had talked to us about it,” he said. “They were trying to start a fire about this but they didn’t have any matches. We really would have liked to have been in the loop on this and not be surprised. They expected us to support it 100 percent and we just didn’t know about it.”
However, Marmer said the Pharmacists Association is still behind the program, although they would still like a meeting with BCBSVT and MVP.
“Be that as it may, the idea is excellent,” he said.