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Radar On Market Access: PBMs Say Use of Mental Health Meds Surges Amid COVID-19

Posted by Leslie Small on Apr 28, 2020


Newly released data from Express Scripts shows that the number of prescriptions filled per week for antidepressants, anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia medications combined jumped 21% between mid-February and mid-March — reaching a zenith during the week ending March 15, when the COVID-19 outbreak officially reached pandemic status. And analytics from UnitedHealth Group's OptumRx showed prescription increases of 15% for anti-anxiety medications, 14% for antidepressants and 5% for anti-insomnia medications during the month of March.

Industry consultants tell AIS Health that they're not at all surprised that the use of such medications is spiking. And they say that situation creates an urgent opportunity for companies that combine a health insurer with a PBM — like Express Scripts parent company Cigna Corp. and its peers — to leverage their unique insights into members' health.

"Pharmacies are often the most utilized part of the benefit compared to medical or behavioral, but now, an increase in some pharmacy utilization can actually signal a need to use more of the behavioral benefit," Peter Manoogian, principal at the health care consulting firm ZS Associates, tells AIS Health.

Rita Numerof, Ph.D., president and founder of the consulting firm Numerof & Associates, says health care organizations should conduct generalized outreach to members that stresses non-pharmaceutical coping mechanisms when appropriate. "Practical guidance, and not looking at this as a mental illness or a mental health issue, in the face of this kind of crisis, is really important," she tells AIS Health.

For its part, UnitedHealth opened up an emotional support help line and is offering a free on-demand emotional support mobile app called Sanvello to help people "cope with stress, anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic," according to a company spokesperson.

Express Scripts, meanwhile, is offering a "digital mental health platform" to its clients at no cost, which "enables members to build resilience and develop skills to better manage stress and sleep issues," according to Rochelle Henderson, Ph.D., vice president of health services research at the PBM.

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Topics: Industry Trends, Data & Analytics, Provider, Payer