The Forgotten Quality Conversation in the Fight Against High Drug Costs

| Brittany McCullough
pharmacist looking at pills surrounded by medications

I recently read a blog on Axios entitled “Why specialty pharmacies matter”. Based on the title, I was expecting to learn about the important role specialty pharmacies have in providing high quality care but was a little surprised to discover the article was in fact about steep markups on specialty drugs.

While the criticism against high drug costs is valid, this intense focus on pricing has left little room to explore the need for quality. As the healthcare system continuously moves toward value-based care, one should be cautious to not be so laser-focused on costs that quality suffers.

Specialty drugs have a lot of great potential but can also carry great risk to patients. Some specialty drugs have a narrow therapeutic index (NTI) which, according to the FDA, means that a mistake in dosage could result in permanent disability or even be life threatening. Specialty drugs, like traditional drugs, can also interact with other drugs or even certain types of food. One limited distribution drug, Kalydeco, which is used to treat certain types of cystic fibrosis, actually interacts with Seville oranges. If someone eats Seville oranges while taking Kalydeco they can be at risk for long-term liver damage.

Scary, right?

Given the risk to patients when dealing with high-cost, potent medications, the dispensing of specialty drugs is often limited to a specialty pharmacy by pharmaceutical manufacturers, health plans and their pharmacy benefit managers.

Providing access to high-cost specialty drugs via unprepared pharmacies can place patients in harm’s way. With their training and expertise, specialty pharmacies are leading efforts in their communities across the country to increase patient access to specialty drugs in high-quality safe environments.

URAC is the nation’s leading accreditor of pharmacy quality.

To learn more about the role of specialty pharmacies, click here.

Brittany McCullough photo

Brittany McCullough, Manager, Health Policy and Government Programs.

Brittany McCullough, URAC's Manager of Health Policy and Government Programs, tracks and analyzes legislation and regulations of importance to URAC stakeholders. She also helps manage URAC’s public policy external affairs portfolio and oversees compliance with government deemed programs. Most of her policy and research work has been related to the ACA, Medicaid managed care, Part D, telehealth and mental health parity. She holds a B.S. in Neuroscience and a Master of Health Administration.

Views, thoughts and opinions expressed in my articles belong solely to me, and not necessarily to my employer.

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