As of July 1 this year, my state has adopted an HMO model for its Medicaid plans. All Medicaid members have been assigned a primary care provider in the network. Many members were bumped from the regular Medicaid onto one of the handful of private insurance companies this state’s Medicaid has contracted with. This will be a disaster for patients in loads of ways: private insurance is part of the problem with peoples’ access to healthcare in the United States. Those insurance companies and the underfunded state programs are really the only ones for whom this can be seen in any way as part of a solution. What a boon for Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana, and a host of other for profit corporations that they now have millions more customers handed to them from state governments.
As with all of the reforms packaged with the Affordable Care Act, I am waiting to see how it will all shake out. So far, however, I have noticed that a huge problem for patients is how difficult it is to navigate these plans. And from a provider standpoint, it is much more confusing. Where do we send our OB patients for ultrasound or to see a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist when their pregnancy is complicated? Well, it depends on their insurance. Whereas many area hospitals still accept regular Medicaid, many have decided not to contract with some of these new private Medicaid plans. So depending on the managed care plan you were assigned, you may have to travel farther to get care than previously.
One plan in particular has been on my shit list for years. My clinic actually does have a contract with this company, so this is the first time I’ve seen up close how it operates — everywhere else I’ve worked or had a student rotation at didn’t take it. They used to do this direct marketing thing — set up a booth at the shopping mall or in the neighborhood and offer women diapers, coupons, and other incentives to get them to switch to their plan. The woman would sign up only to find that she now cannot go to the clinic where she already had established care. Luckily, this practice is no longer allowed, so in theory patients are signing up for more above-board reasons.
Their prescription drug coverage remains a reason for me to campaign against them. Regular Medicaid in my state is not perfect — but the drugs they cover actually make medical sense (though there are loads of gaps). Now, when prescribing, we have to look up the formulary for myriad private Medicaid plans. (And don’t get me started on the limitations of contraceptive coverage on regular or these private plans, even with the contraceptive mandate.) Insurance, not public health, is determining many of my medical treatments. This is not a rational healthcare delivery system.
The absolute tip of the iceberg for me, though, with privatized Medicaid, is the requirement for the provider or pharmacy to submit a prior authorization request when prescribing treatment for two conditions that I see pretty frequently: gonorrhea (which includes injection of a drug called ceftriaxone) and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) (which requires both ceftriaxone and 14 days of oral doxycycline).
What is prior authorization? Basically, a road-block to getting my patient the necessary treatment immediately at the time of diagnosis. It means that either the pharmacy or I have to submit an form to the insurance company explaining my medical rationale for scripting this drug. We fax the request and then wait 24-48 hours for it to be approved.
The request is invariably granted. They pay it. Then we have to get the patient back into the clinic pharmacy to pick up the medication, and in the case of ceftriaxone, to get an injection from clinical staff (it cannot be injected in the pharmacy). Some clinics get around this by stocking the medication themselves, but that is not an expense my clinic is able to take on.
These antibiotics are expensive, and should not be. But it is not as though we are throwing either around unnecessarily. Believe me, it is very important to not over-prescribe antibiotics. But is cost the only factor to consider in treatment? Don’t patients deserve to get appropriate treatment for infections that can have some pretty horrific consequences if not treated correctly?
I believe that we who hold that healthcare is a right have a duty to work together to crack open the continuing gaps in the new healthcare systems and fight for one that includes everyone (and yes, that means including undocumented immigrants) and covers all basic healthcare as a human right. I plan on campaigning against privatized Medicaid, and this is just one example of how a for-profit corporation is putting their profits ahead of public health in that privatized system.
To that end, I wanted to share with you a letter that I sent to that private Medicaid contractor that requires prior authorization. I was fed up. And two weeks after sending it, I received a call from one of their representatives asking for more background on why I sent the letter. I’m not convinced this is the end of it, but I am happy to say that the representative reported to me that she would pass my concerns on to people [who I deduce are the company pharmacists] that make formulary decisions.
If you are a healthcare provider dealing with this issue in your patient population, I heartily encourage you to pick up the phone and add your voice to the dissent. Or copy and paste elements of my letter and forward on to the insurance company that corresponds in your instance.
We are many. They need to hear from us.
I am writing today because I am very concerned about the prior authorization requirement for medication ceftriaxone (Rocephin) and doxycycline. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a one-time injection of 250mg of ceftriaxone is the most appropriate treatment for gonorrhea (to be prescribed with azithromycin or equivalent). It is also the best treatment for pelvic inflammatory disease, along with 100mg oral doxycycline for 14 days.
As a women’s health provider, many patients present to my office with one or both of these conditions, requiring immediate treatment. Due to your organization’s prior authorization requirement for these medications, my [private corporation contracted] Medicaid patients face an unnecessary and potentially unsafe barrier when seeking treatment for these conditions. The prior authorization requirement means that complete treatment is delayed for these patients. I work in a setting for which transportation to the health clinic can be a significant issue – patients often report they delay seeking care due to economic and transportation barriers. It may not be easy for the patient to present to the clinic on a different day to pick up the prescription from the pharmacy and then receive the injection from our staff.
In addition to facing the stigma and emotional stress of having a sexually transmitted infection or PID, which can threaten a patient’s future fertility, this added barrier of delaying ceftriaxone treatment not only increases the emotional toll of such an infection – it also increases the threat of antibiotic resistance. If patients are not able to complete the full dose of the last remaining medication we have to treat gonorrhea, we could see an increase in resistance. Injection treatment for gonorrhea is supposed to help decrease antibiotic resistance. The prior authorization requirement runs the risk of making this an infection that can become even more threatening in not only the community I serve, but on a larger scale as well.
I am extremely concerned about the barrier that prior authorization requirement for these two medications creates for my patients, who deserve nothing less than safe and compassionate quality healthcare. I hope you will add ceftriaxone and 100mg doxycycline to the preferred drug list immediately, so we can enhance our patients’ access to care and improve public health.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you
A Concerned Certified Nurse Midwife