Even with prescription drug coverage, prescription drugs can be expensive. Having access to credible scientific evidence of the effectiveness of drugs and comparing information about each drug's price can help patients gain more control over their health care and its costs. Now, AVMA Group Health & Life Insurance Trust members can do exactly that.
In August, Medco Health Solutions Inc., the pharmacy benefit manager for the AVMA GHLIT, signed an agreement with Consumer Reports to deliver information on prescription drugs to GHLIT participants. Called Best Buy Drugs, the new, free service provides a way to review and compare drugs' effectiveness, safety, and pricing based on unbiased reports.
Medco, the nation's largest pharmacy benefit manager is delivering the Consumer Reports' Best Buy Drug reports to AVMA GHLIT participants through its new Savings Advisor tool online at www.medco.com. Many GHLIT participants are already familiar with the Web site from using it to manage their medications.
AVMA GHLIT participants simply need to register online at Medco's Web site to access Savings Advisor and all other Medco online services. Savings Advisor provides cost-savings alternatives based on the participant's personal prescription history and drug plan. Those alternatives may include generic equivalents or alternatives; lower-cost, brand-name alternatives; over-the-counter medications; or ordering up to a three-month supply of long-term medication through Medco by Mail. A personalized results page can be printed on a personal printer and brought to the member's doctor for a discussion of options.
The analyses of prescription drugs conducted by Consumer Reports start with a series of comprehensive and independent reviews of the scientific evidence on the effectiveness and safety of drugs in specific classes. Examples of a drug class would be drugs that treat high blood pressure, drugs that treat heartburn, or drugs that treat high cholesterol.
Consumer Reports then designates some drugs as Best Buy Drugs on the basis of the drug's effectiveness, safety, and track record over time, along with its price. To be considered a Best Buy Drug, the drug must:
- be in the top tier of effectiveness among drugs in its class
- have a safety record equal to or better than other drugs in the class
- generally, have an average cost for a 30-day supply that is substantially lower than the most costly drug meeting the first two criteria
A Best Buy Drug may not necessarily be the least expensive drug in its category. Also, there may be more than one Best Buy Drug in a class if it is equally as effective and its price is close to that of other Best Buy Drugs. Consumer Reports evaluates price on the basis of national averages. The prescription plan coverage of the GHLIT participant is not considered.
The Best Buy Drugs information is updated periodically and may change as new scientific evidence emerges or as drug prices change. Also, new generic drugs may become available in a given category.
AVMA GHLIT participants wanting even more information about a particular drug can read the reports at www.crbestbuydrugs.org. The reports are organized by drug classes. Participants may choose to read the "Our Recommendations—A Summary" to get a quick overview of the safety and effectiveness of the drugs, as well as cost comparisons. A two-page summary with further details is also provided. The full report, generally around 20 pages, offers a wealth of information about the drugs and the medical condition they are designed to treat.
The information provided in the reports is designed to educate patients and help them evaluate affordable treatment options. The reports are meant to lead to informed discussions with the patient's physician. Medco and Consumer Reports caution that no changes to medication should be made without a physician's approval, and that a licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions.
Consumer Reports' Best Buy Drugs is an independently funded public education project of Consumers Union. Consumers Union is not connected with Medco Health Solutions Inc. or any of its clients. The project is funded by the Engelberg Foundation and the National Libraries of Medicine.
The move toward better educating health care consumers is one that the AVMA GHLIT embraces. It is also a trend that will benefit veterinarians. Because traditional employer-sponsored insurance plans often shield patients from the true cost of care, most patients have had little opportunity or incentive to attempt to manage the cost of care. Veterinarians, many of whom bear the full cost of health insurance, have a great stake in any program that can help lower costs. When individuals save money, it helps control overall costs for the Trust—which in turn can positively impact premiums.
Medco's prescription drug benefit programs are designed to help drive down the cost of pharmacy health care. Medco's technologically advanced mail-order and Internet pharmacies—and now Savings Advisor—are all tools in this mission.
For additional information about the prescription drug benefit or other benefits available through the AVMA GHLIT, contact the Trust at (800) 621-6360.