Employers have long been concerned about costs for specialty therapies, but some may have been hesitant about putting too many restrictions on them. However, as these drugs continue to come onto the market with higher and higher price tags, employers should become more familiar with these therapies in order to properly manage them, industry experts suggest.

Over the past three years, specialty drugs have made up almost two-thirds of all new drug approvals, points out Katie Asch, Pharm.D., senior director and U.S. consulting pharmacy practice lead at Willis Towers Watson. And as these drugs make up the bulk of the pharma pipeline, employers should expect their utilization to continue to rise, she says. “Furthermore, specialty drugs are becoming more widely used in disease states like asthma or eczema that have historically been treated with less expensive inhalers or topical creams,” which also will result in increased utilization.

A variety of steps may be taken to ensure that employers truly understand these drugs and their value proposition. While much of their focus, understandably, is around the products’ increasing spend and trend, it’s important for employers “to understand that many patients with specialty conditions also incur significant direct and indirect medical costs related to their conditions,” declares Erin Lopata, Pharm.D., MPH, senior director of the access experience team at PRECISIONvalue. “Direct costs can include symptomatic treatments, procedures, hospitalizations and use of durable medical equipment. Indirect costs may include impacts to the employee’s productivity as they manage their own condition or serve as a caregiver to a dependent. Understanding the complete picture of disease burden and cost will be critical to effectively implementing models that minimize risk and improve predictability, while providing access to the appropriate patients. This is particularly important for value-based contracts, which also serve to describe the long-term value these treatments may bring.”

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