Specialty Pharmacies Could Play a Crucial Role Lowering 2018 Drug Costs

Author: Laurie Toich, Associate Editor

Drug costs are a top priority for federal and state governments and are also a serious concern among Americans of all income levels. Many legislators and advocacy groups have called for reform to the supply chain in hopes that 2018 will be the year drug costs will be reined in.
The recently released Drug Pricing Forecast published by Vizient suggests that health systems may experience a slightly lower increase in the cost of prescription drugs in 2018.
“The latest Drug Price Forecast highlights the ongoing market dynamics that continue to contribute to rising pharmaceutical costs and exacerbate the challenge of managing health system pharmacy expenses,” Dan Kistner, senior vice president, pharmacy solutions for Vizient, said in a press release. “Pharmacy and C-suite leaders must collaborate and strategically address these issues by implementing cost-saving and quality optimization measures. They must also leverage their voices in advocacy to address the more systematic issues including drug shortages and high-cost medications.”
The authors reported that the lower rate of cost growth of 7.35% was mainly attributable to fewer drastic price increases and moderated costs of specialty drugs, including those that treat hepatitis C virus.
However, additional approaches are needed to further slow drug cost inflation.  
“While slightly lower, this increase still represents a substantial impact, especially given the use of many high-cost drugs across our members,” Kistner said.
To address the upward trend of drug costs, the authors said biosimilars are an untapped resource. The researchers noted that only 3 biosimilars were launched in 2017, with 5 others yet to be available to patients. 
“The areas where our members spend the most money are in the disease-modifying, anti-rheumatic drugs, where biosimilar competition already exists, and in oncology drugs, where substantial biosimilar competition is expected in 2019,” Kistner said. “If we do not find a way to capitalize on this introduction of competition for therapeutically similar products, we waste an incredible opportunity to influence drug spend.”
The report also noted that a majority of newly-approved products are specialty drugs and that this trend is unlikely to change any time soon. Since these costly drugs continue to drive pharmacy spend, the importance of specialty pharmacies will grow concurrently.
“Expanding functional capacity to deliver high-quality specialty pharmacy services, either alone or in concert with an external provider, remains a critical objective for member organizations,” the authors wrote.
Specialty pharmacists play a crucial role in mitigating unnecessary health care costs by ensuring patients with high-touch, complex diseases are able to access and and remain adherent to their medications. This not only reduces the risk of adverse events, but also prevents hospitalizations and waste. 
As efforts to combat rising drug costs continue, the work of specialty pharmacists will be at the forefront of the conversation.   
“The product pipeline continues to be directed towards pharmaceuticals intended for smaller patient populations with high-acuity, chronic conditions,” the authors wrote. “Specialty pharmacy expertise remains an essential competency for providers that wish to remain successful.”