Health plans guide enrollees’ access to specialty drugs through coverage policies. Practice guidelines recommend that the evidence supporting drug coverage policies should be comprehensive and routinely updated to reflect evidence-based medicine.
To examine the frequency with which health plans update their coverage criteria and supporting evidence and to determine the pattern with which plans cited relevant literature in their coverage policies.
Coverage policies from 17 large US commercial health plans were retrieved from the Tufts Medical Center Specialty Drug Evidence and Coverage database for August 2017 and August 2019. We identified drug-indication pairs (eg, infliximab for rheumatoid arthritis) for which plans had issued coverage policies in August 2017 and August 2019. We examined the frequency with which plans reissued these policies (ie, issued a new coverage document) between these 2 time points and the frequency with which plans altered coverage criteria or updated the cited evidence. A random sample of 20 drug-indication pairs was chosen to determine the comprehensiveness of cited evidence from the Specialty Drug Evidence and Coverage database. For each pair, a systematic literature search was conducted to identify relevant clinical and economic studies. A comparison of the systematic literature search with the evidence cited in each drug-indication pair’s coverage policy was conducted to determine the comprehensive nature of each coverage policy’s evidence.
We identified 4,597 instances of plans issuing a coverage policy for the same drug-indication pair in both August 2017 and August 2019. Of those 4,597 instances, plans reissued an updated coverage document in 4,468 (97%). Fifteen percent of reissued policies revised both their coverage criteria and the evidence cited, 2% only their coverage criteria, 69% only the cited evidence, and 14% made no change. A total of 2,760 literature documents were identified relevant to at least one of the 20 drug-indication pairs, of which at least one plan cited 146 of these documents at least once (5.3%). Plans cited health technology assessments, randomized controlled trials (RCTs), systematic reviews/meta-analyses, and clinical guidelines most comprehensively.
Health plans reissued most of their specialty drug coverage policies over a 2-year period. When plans revised their drug coverage criteria, they also tended to revise the evidence cited in their coverage polices. Of all the evidence found in our systematic review, plans more comprehensively cite health technology assessments, RCTs, and systematic reviews/meta-analyses.
This study was funded by the National Pharmaceutical Council.