The Employer's Guide Blog for Overseeing PBMs

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Formulary Management: Don’t Allow the Fox to Guard the Henhouse

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A formulary agent may be restricted or unrestricted, with restrictions defined by indication, service, or specialty group (eg, infectious disease); medical staff hierarchy (eg, attending only), or patient population (eg, cystic fibrosis, pediatric). Off-criteria uses of formulary agents constitute a nonformulary use. Ideally, medication utilization evaluations should be conducted on a regular basis to assess compliance with formulary restrictions.

When multiple agents within a therapeutic category are available on the market (such as low-molecular weight heparins or histamine-2 receptor antagonists), drug class reviews are often conducted in an attempt to declare therapeutic equivalence and maintain only 1 preferred agent on the formulary. An increasing number of medications within a therapeutic category can lead to greater price variation among the medications, which creates potential for significant cost savings through declaring agents therapeutically equivalent and allowing them to be interchanged.

In addition to cost savings, patient safety is enhanced by minimizing look-alike sound-alike medications through streamlined inventory and the medication reconciliation process. Minimizing the number of agents available on a formulary also improves staff competency and knowledge about specific medications. Selecting an agent for inclusion in a formulary requires numerous operational considerations:

  • With respect to purchasing, it is important to determine if a drug is supplied by the organization’s pharmaceutical distributors or if it is a specialty/limited-distribution drug requiring direct shipment. Not all pharmaceutical wholesalers are able to supply the drug product, particularly high-cost specialty medications. Since most pharmacy departments purchase products from wholesalers at a cost minus discount, the pharmacy will be charged a higher price if the drug being reviewed comes from another source, potentially resulting in a significant increase in drug expenditures due to the loss of the cost-minus discount. Manufacturers can switch between different distribution strategies to best fit the needs of patients and providers as the marketplace changes.


Tyrone Squires, MBA, CPBS

I am the proud founder and managing director of TransparentRx, a fiduciary-model PBM based in Las Vegas, Nevada. We help health plan sponsors reduce pharmacy spend, by as much as 50%, without cutting benefits or shifting costs to employees.

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