When treating a chronic disease such as psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis, time is of the essence: every day that a patient goes without an effective treatment is another day of suffering. Unfortunately, three-quarters of large employers offer their employees insurance plans that use step therapy policies, which can often delay patients from getting access to the medications prescribed by their doctors.
“You could be looking at a nine-month process before you get access to the doctor’s recommended treatment,” said Patrick Stone, vice president of government relations and advocacy at the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF). “Insurance plans need to get patients access to medications their doctors determined were right for them sooner than that. They deserve better.”
Many states have stepped up to protect patients from step therapy procedures by enacting legislation that limits the use of step therapy, with Minnesota and New Mexico being two of the latest examples.
The Problems of Step Therapy
If a prescribed treatment isn’t on the insurer’s preferred medications list, the insurer may deny it until a patient tries and “fails” on one or more of the preferred options. This process, called step therapy, is commonly practiced among major private insurance plans.
Step therapy is based on a one-size-fits-all approach, assuming that patients respond similarly to treatments. But in reality, patients with chronic diseases such as psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis can have very different responses to the same medication.
Step therapy is not unusual in rheumatology and dermatology despite the fact that many of these chronic diseases are associated with serious comorbidities. Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis patients can suffer from other ailments, making it even more important to address the disease effectively and promptly with appropriate therapies.
“Step therapy reform is a high priority for the psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis community,” Stone said. “If you’re not treating psoriatic arthritis in a timely and appropriate manner as determined by your doctor, it can certainly become a disabling disease.”
Reigning in Step Therapy
Recently passed step therapy reform legislation does not stop insurance carriers from enacting cost control measures. Instead, the laws are intended to protect patients by providing a timely exemption process to override step therapy procedure.
Over the past four years, the NPF has led a number of campaigns at the state and federal levels with other patient and provider groups across the country.
In 2018, New Mexico passed step therapy reform legislation. “As a result of step therapy legislation, people living with a psoriatic disease in New Mexico have better access to prescribed treatments,” Stone said. The total number of states that have enacted step therapy legislation is now up to 19.
The most effective spokespeople for step therapy legislation have been the patients, according to Stone. When legislation was being considered in Texas last year, a 16-year-old with psoriatic arthritis named Michael from San Antonio met with state legislators. In a room filled mostly with lobbyists, the Speaker of the House only wanted to hear from one person: Michael, who shared how step therapy delayed his treatment and the trouble that caused him. “Michael did a better job than any lobbyist could in articulating the issue,” Stone said.
As a result of step therapy legislation in Minnesota and New Mexico, the more than 190,000 Americans living with a psoriatic disease in those two states have better access to prescribed treatments.
With most state legislatures having already adjourned for the year, Stone and the NPF are already planning for 2019. “In the upcoming year, we plan to renew efforts in Florida, Georgia, Washington and Maine, while also exploring options in other states with no prior legislative attempts,” said Stone. “Meanwhile, states like Pennsylvania, Virginia and Oregon are considering folding step therapy regulations into larger bills aimed at protecting patients from insurance practices.”
“The momentum is behind us going into the 2019 legislative sessions,” Stone said. “We have a game plan in place already. We know what states we’ll be in, and we’re excited about the potential for large amounts of legislative victories during the next couple years regarding step therapy reform.”
Meanwhile, at the federal level, the administration recently announced that it would allow step therapy in Medicare Advantage plans for Part B medications, which are typically administered in a hospital or clinic setting. Step therapy is already allowed in Medicare Part D plans, which covers at-home prescription medications.
“Medicare Advantage holders are senior citizens and those who are permanently disabled,” Stone said. “That makes it even more difficult for them to understand how the mediation process works and how to appeal it. So we’ve still got plenty of work to do to protect them.”
To learn more about why the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in psoriasis, read “Psoriasis Patients Deserve Their Prescribed Therapy Without Delay.”