Magazine article Drug Topics

Wheels and Deals

Magazine article Drug Topics

Wheels and Deals

Article excerpt

Ford jumps on the bandwagon by hiring its own pharmacy manager to cut Rx costs

Ford Motor Co. has taken a new path to controlling its ballooning drug benefit costs: It hired a pharmacist.

Thomas Joseph jumped from the top pharmacy job at Health Alliances Plan, one of Detroit's largest managed care organizations, to the auto giant in August 2000. His job: bring sense, and savings, to Ford's $600 million annual drug spending. "Drugs are Ford's single largest health-care expense, and they're growing at a tremendous rate," said Joseph, Ford's first-ever pharmacy program manager. "They need somebody with managed care experience to mitigate those costs."

Ford is following a trail blazed by General Motors, which hired the auto industry's first pharmacy benefits manager in late 1999 (Drug Topics, Feb. 7, 2000). Like other major employers, the two auto makers are seeing pharmacy costs rise 20% annually. No. 3 auto maker DaimlerChrysler AG declined to say how it is dealing with the same cost increases.

"It bodes well that both GM and Ford have hired pharmacists," said managed care consultant Perry Cohen, president of The Pharmacy Group LLC in Glastonbury, Conn. "This is the next logical step for payers after hiring medical directors in the early 1990s. Drug therapy issues are hard to understand if you're not intimately familiar with our side of health care."

Joseph, like his counterpart at GM, Cynthia Kirman, manager, national managed pharmacy program, has hospital and retail experience. With the help of a master's degree in health system administration, he worked his way to pharmacy director at Detroit's largest community-based HMO. "It's not enough to manage costs," he said. "At the very least, you need to keep quality at the same level, if not higher. You can really make an impact if you can get your hands around group data and work on quality."

Ford and GM are hardeyed competitors when it comes to selling vehicles, but the auto giants are bosom buddies when it comes to medical and drug benefits. "All three auto companies are talking about the same employee population," Joseph explained. "We all have similar problems and issues, we have similar claims data, we all have Merck-Medco as our pharmacy benefit manager. The people who make the cars are the same demographic. It only makes sense to cooperate."

It also makes sense to take the long view. …

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