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Louisiana bags white-bagging

A June 8 Modern Healthcare story covers the state’s decision to take a stand to protect the physician/patient relationship.

How about a bit of good news, for a change? Modern Healthcare ran a story about how Louisiana passed legislation ruling that insurers can no longer bypass hospitals’ in-house pharmacies in favor of using their own specialty pharmacies, when it comes to physician-administered drugs.

This decision bans the practice of “white-bagging,” which is the term for mandating that certain drug prescriptions are filled at a pharmacy that’s approved (and often owned or managed) by the insurer, and then sent back to the provider to administer. Insurers benefit from this practice by bringing pharmacy profits in-house.

The problem, as we see it, is quality control. These specialty drugs are often prescribed and dispensed immediately after patients have tests run in order for physicians to give the right dosage. White-bagging inserts potential delays into the process, which can lead to inaccurate dosing. And that’s no good.

We’ve already seen white-bagging practices employed by insurers UnitedHealthcare and Aetna—and, in fact, United has been called out by the AHA for it. But Louisiana, at least, has determined that it shouldn’t be about what’s best for insurers. Scott Wester, CEO of Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, says that his organization’s work toward passing the law was not so much about costs as about care. “This is really about patient choice and patient rights,” he says. After all, it’s not the insurer who will suffer if there’s a delay in medication delivery or a miscalculated dosage.

We applaud Louisiana for standing up to insurers and protecting patients. And we’ll be interested to see whether other insurers are able get away with white-bagging, or if more legislation like Louisiana’s passes around the country.

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