“Once you’ve wrestled (with the big 3), everything else in life is easy.”

The quote I modified above is from Dan Gable, the Michael Jordan of wrestling. Gable, is the retired head coach of the University of Iowa wrestling where he won 15 NCAA titles and as a collegiate wrestler at Iowa State, Gable lost only 1 match and won gold in Munich in ’72 while only giving up one point.  The theme is that wrestling makes you tough and that nothing in life is as hard as wrestling.

The same goes for wrestling with Express Scripts, CVS Heath and OptumRX. Hospital Systems have to get into great shape, train with a team and have a clear game plan to out hustle, outwit and out execute the big three. Last week a hospital system in the mid-west said that they would just contract their Specialty Pharmacy. This is the equivalent of asking someone else to do pushups for you. They get all the benefit and you, the hospital system, get nothing. Contract pharmacies are not a hospitals’ friend for Specialty Pharmacy. They are very profitable scavengers that prey on hospital systems that are looking to provide better care through their pharmacy.


This illustration is one of the best I have seen at explaining why Contract Pharmacies don’t return any value back to the hospital.  Exclude Medicaid, Managed Medicaid, 340B savings on LDDs, most payors, most LDD drugs, don’t forget to take out the dispensing fee and 20% Contract Pharmacy Fee and hospital systems are left with very little. There is also no way that a contract pharmacy can help the hospital with care.  Huge promises from contract Pharmacies abound. All those promises all amount to a call center with robo calls. 3 Levers That Separate Good from GREAT in Hospital-Owned Specialty Pharmacy details how Specialty Pharmacy requires a fit organization. No one other than YOU, the hospital system, can do the pushups!

Why would a hospital system stand for many exclusions? Where does all the money go? I can’t tell you where the money actually goes – that is the secret sauce of PBM spread pricing, reimbursement, rebates and total lack of transparency that these drug middlemen thrive off. Great article here about Express Scripts exposure on drug pricing during their very public break up with Anthem, the largest for-profit managed health care company in the Blue Cross Blue Shields Association. That topic is for another day.

Here’s the sage advice of the day: co-develop, co-develop, co-develop! It is the only way to get fit fast, be in shape to wrestle with the PBMs, avoid the contract pharmacies and drive greater care and revenue back to the health system. Shields Health Solutions, as you know is my proud home, is THE ONLY Specialty Pharmacy and Care Integrator in the world that focuses on bringing the Specialty Pharmacy in-house, owned by the hospital.  I usually tackle topics without the plug but this one is a must. http://www.shieldshealthsolutions.com or contact me below and I will make sure that Shields helps you get in shape to tackle the PBMs.

As always, keep the feedback coming at contact@thespecialtysage.com.


Specialty pharmacy: business or care model?

It’s “show and tell” day at The Specialty Sage. I’ve been getting similar feedback over the last week at contact@thespecialtysage.com. I wasn’t planning on blogging about the perception of specialty pharmacy but based on recent articles and some good feedback from all of you, it seems appropriate.


From: Dr. Hospital Executive in Chicago (took her name off as a courtesy)

Subject: Debate resolution needed

Dear Mr. Sage, (quick pause here, I’m Matt Conway, short profile in the About section, and I thought The Specialty Sage was a catchy blog title. Call me whatever you want but I didn’t think someone would call me Mr. Sage. I sort of like it though 🙂

I like where you are going with your recent blog posts. (X Hospital System) has been struggling with Specialty as we started down this road years ago. There are too many hurdles in specialty pharmacy to list here from a structural standpoint. We have seen the payor complexity and payor lockout which has led us to great internal debate.

Post-discharge care, this is the care that is really provided through the specialty pharmacy, is potent and our providers love it. There isn’t one, not one, in-clinic specialty doc that asks how much money the pharmacy returns to the hospital. ALL OF THEM ASK FOR MORE PEOPLE ON THE CARE TEAM. Pardon the caps but it is a point worth reinforcing.

The debate is about what IS the specialty pharmacy business.  Is it more of a care model or more of a revenue-centered business? It is important for (us) to take a critical look at where our resources are being consumed. Specialty pharmacy is tricky because it requires a large amount of human capital and the benefit isn’t as clearly measured in patient outcomes, as it is in dollars. As a not-for-profit hospital, we don’t really say that we are in the business of care as much as we say we are in the caring business. It is clear that not everybody we deal with believes the same as evidenced by our payor relationships.

Can you help us resolve our debate?

Best wishes,


Firstly, thanks for the email and the debate means that good things are happening at your health system.  It is a bifurcated conversation depending on where you sit in the hospital. If you are in the C-suite, then the benefit of the in-house specialty pharmacy is abundantly clear – it’s in the additional dollars that help plug holes for the hospital. If you are the specialty chief, then you think specialty pharmacy is a care model and you know it helps your patients become more adherent which leads to better health outcomes.

An additional fact here should be noted for total clarity, “ExpressScripts, CVS Caremark, and OptumRx control a combined 75 to 80 percent of the specialty market” and “ExpressScripts’ adjusted profit per prescription has increased by 500 percent since 2003.” per a great article in The Week by Ryan Copper titled “The secret monopoly behind America’s outrageous drug prices”. The Secret Monopoly Behind Americas Drug Prices

My sarcastic side would like to jump in here and say that it is definitely a business if each of the aforementioned businesses are in the Top 22 of the Fortune 500, duh! Wait, hold on though! I agree with the emailer, not-for profits are in the “caring business.” It does seem like tighter data integration and analytics would help give this particular healthcare system better metrics that support the argument that care is what specialty is all about. I would go on to also note that being able to profile, assess, run prior authorizations, test claims, get financial assistance and properly classify patient encounters is the well spring to tie specialty pharmacy care to the business. It will tie bottom line dollars to drug adherence, reduction of financial toxicity and reducing patient readmission and costs to the hospital.

Hospitals that take on specialty pharmacy in house, not creating a network of contract pharmacies or consider in-house infusion on the hospital benefit as “doing specialty pharmacy,” but the outpatient pharmacy benefit, oral and self-injectable drug segment of specialty pharmacy are taking on behemoths. Regardless of where you classify the business in the context of the hospital; you have now picked a fight with a Fortune 22 company on their turf. Hospital systems have to be ready to compete or you could have greater patient leakage, a lower standard of care and lose money. Specialty pharmacy is about care.

Are not-for-profit hospital systems going to be able to hire the call support staff, create the data-analytics, keep on top of changing co-pays, changing drug information, changing drug interaction, changing payor certifications and audits, changing 340B rules, changing revenue cycle management, changing intricacies of patient intervention and 100 other things and still keep their core focus of giving superior care to a needed patient population?

This was a great topic and I want to keep the debate going in future posts. Please send your ideas on how the business of specialty pharmacy in-house at not-for-profits should be classified and what the greatest benefit you see as a hospital system. Send to contact@thespecialtysage.com.




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