Given the exorbitant prices of prescription drugs in our country, it’s encouraging to see institutions like the University stepping up to make a difference.
Last week, the University announced a program called MHealthy: Focus on Diabetes to provide free co-pays for diabetes related medication for its employees. The plan will reduce the co-pays of brand-name drugs and eliminate them completely for generic medication for University faculty, staff and dependents who have diabetes. With this innovative program, which was crafted based on research findings of University faculty, the University sets a laudable precedent for healthcare benefit policies in America, but it must continue to monitor, and if deemed prudent, expand the program to cover other illnesses.
MHealthy reflects a positive change in the University’s outlook on prescription drug coverage, which has evolved significantly over the last six years. In Sept. 2000, the University increased co-pays because the University Benefits Office estimated that such action would result in long-term savings of $1.7 million per year.
However, a year later, University researchers published a study stating that increased drug co-pays lead insured healthcare consumers with chronic conditions to deviate from their medication regiment – putting them at a greater risk of more serious illnesses and requiring more expensive treatment later on. Likewise, researchers suggested “benefit-based co-pays” – reducing the co-pays for prescription drugs consumed by those with chronic conditions – as an economically efficient way to reduce long-term healthcare expenditures and a means to encourage Americans to maintain their health.
The University’s commitment to follow up on the recommendations of these researchers is a step that keeps the health interests of employees paramount while still saving money in the long run. The decision to use diabetes as a testing ground for this plan is a sensible one, given that 50 percent of diabetic patients avoid or delay purchase of drugs such as insulin, ACE inhibitors, statins and antidepressants because of cost restraints – thereby significantly increasing their risk of more serious health issues. If the results of the pilot program have the intended economic and social results, the University must move quickly to expand the program to include employees with other chronic diseases, such as asthma and heart disease.
As commendable and groundbreaking as this plan is, the University must ensure that its efforts to monitor the effects of the program are kept up to date. If all goes according to plan, the term “Michigan Difference” can take on a whole new meaning.