White bagging is a practice that insurance companies have used for years. It requires patients and hospitals to get special medications such as chemotherapy drugs at insurance-approved formulary pharmacies instead of at their regular pharmacies.
Using specialty formulary pharmacies means that each medication is formulated for the patient’s needs instead of mass-produced. Of course, the upside of this is that every patient gets exactly what they have been prescribed, even if that’s different than what’s typically available. But there are also downsides.
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The reality is that requiring the use of formulary pharmacies can cause increased prices, because each medication has to be specially made for each patient, and a lack of access for patients due to the distance they may live from approved pharmacies. It can also lead to delays in patients getting the medications they need.
On April 1st, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Indiana, the state’s largest health insurance company, started requiring hospitals in Indiana to use formulary pharmacies for chemotherapy drugs. This change has led to issues, including eight patients who did not get their chemotherapy drugs in time for their appointments.
Now some states are making changes to keep insurance companies from creating policies like this one, which could cause significant issues for patients.
According to Hoosiers for Safe Meds, “a growing number of states have recently passed legislation or have taken administrative action to regulate the practice, including Louisiana, who passed a law last month banning health insurance companies from requiring drugs to be white bagged.”
The Indiana General Assembly is investigating the effects of white bagging and will hear a report on the subject to help them determine how to move forward with legislation surrounding the issue. The Indiana Department of Health, along with the Indiana Board of Pharmacy, Indiana Department of Insurance, and the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, created the report following testimonies from patients and health care providers about the dangers of white bagging.
The practice of white bagging obviously benefits insurance companies and may sometimes result in benefits for patients, but it also has significant risks. Patients who cannot get their medications in time or who cannot afford them may face serious health consequences. We hope, for their sake, that more states take notice and ban these unfair policies.
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