Kaiser questions complexity of drug-safety programs

February 1, 2010

Kasier Permanente is concerned that its physicians will be cut out of FDA programs

SACRAMENTO-Kaiser Permanente is concerned that too many diverse drug safety programs will impose a burden on the healthcare system and on patients, and that this will drive up costs and limit access to therapies.

The integrated health plan wants a greater say in how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and drug companies design and implement these programs to ensure they don't discriminate against certain healthcare providers and pharmacies.

In 2007, Congress expanded FDA's authority to require drug makers to establish Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS) to enhance the safe and appropriate use of marketed medicines. Most of the 80 or more approved REMS are fairly modest, only providing patients with printed medication guides that describe proper drug use.

COST AND ACCESS QUESTIONED

Kaiser is concerned that its physicians and pharmacies will be cut out of such certification and distribution programs, and that its patients will have difficulty gaining access to needed therapies. Such requirements could increase costs for health plans and for consumers, limiting access to needed drugs and the overall benefits of the REMS safety program.

The problem has not been that noticeable so far because most REMS with ETASU have involved drugs for relatively small patient populations. However, FDA is considering a more involved REMS for the broad class of extended-use opioids, and might weigh such an approach for erythropoietin-stimulating agents (for red blood cell production), drugs that are expensive and widely used.

Consequently, Kaiser has formally petitioned FDA to open up its process for designing and approving REMS with ETASU. Kaiser proposes that FDA's public advisory committees review such processes to make the proposals more transparent and to allow plans and providers to have a say. That would give Kaiser an opportunity to have its own specialty pharmacy operation included in a REMS network.

The health plan also wants to ensure that REMS programs protect the privacy of patient health information.