Specialty drugs are the future of health care. They are becoming more curative thus require high-contact care coordination and deliberate follow up to guarantee patients stay disciplined and can manage potential side effects to optimize therapy. As a result, payers have looked to narrow their networks as a means to control outcomes, contain costs, and protect revenue which in turn dictates where patients can fill their prescriptions. Today, there is a range of pharmacy options for payers to assess. For the purpose of this blog post, a payer is both a PBM and plan sponsor (third-party), for example.
Health System Specialty Pharmacy (HSSP)
Independent pharmacies that offer specialty dispensing may provide more extensive clinical services in niche therapeutic areas. Additionally, independents often have higher agility in terms of adopting and customizing clinical programs to meet patient and payer needs. While independent SPs may be a part of certain LDD networks, they typically do not have access to the vast majority of specialty drugs on the market.
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Chain Specialty Pharmacy
Chain or major retail pharmacies with specialty channels, have greater access to LDDs than independent SPs. Due to their large number of physical stores, they are a convenient option for patients. However, given the high volume of specialty prescriptions they dispense every day, chain SPs may have less time and bandwidth to dedicate to individualized patient care and follow-up. As a result, they may experience lower customer service ratings compared with other types of SPs. Finally, when the PBM, insurance carrier and specialty pharmacy are all owned by the same organization this convenience often comes with strings attached. Some plans are required to use only the chain’s SP and often forgo rebates in doing so.
Specialty Pharmacy Network
One emerging option for third-party payers is to work with a specialty pharmacy services administration organization (PSAO), a centralized contracting organization that aggregates and supports multiple types of specialty pharmacies at once. Composed of a mix of HSSPs, independent SPs, and medically integrated dispensers, specialty PSAOs create access to a larger network of high-performing pharmacies and enable payers to utilize the trust and familiarity patients have at local and regional facilities, in addition to independents.
The pharmacy landscape has changed significantly in recent years, and payer networks must follow suit to ensure they are taking advantage of the patient benefits and quality of care each type of pharmacy provides. It’s important for payers to consider how they can evolve and optimize their specialty contracting strategies—not only to control costs, but also to increase patient access to high-quality care that leads to better outcomes.