WellPoint jumps into comparative-effectiveness fray

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More proof that the U.S. government isn't the only one interested in comparative effectiveness research: WellPoint, a major insurer, is already acting on its own comparisons. Based on a review of 26,000 members on the osteoporosis drugs Boniva, Actonel and Fosamax, the company now requires that members try Sanofi-Aventis' Actonel or Merck's Fosamax before it will pay for the Roche/GlaxoSmithKline drug Boniva.

According to Dow Jones, WellPoint found that Fosamax and Actonel patients did a better job at sticking to their doses, and they had lower fracture rates and lower total costs of care than the Boniva patients did. Hence the change to prescription benefits, which took place last year. (FYI, Aetna says that on some of its plans it requires members to try Actonel and generic Fosamax first, the news service reports. Cigna, however, has dubbed Boniva as its preferred drug, with the other two in second place.)

WellPoint is preparing more comparative studies. As of last month, the company had developed standardized guidelines for the research. And it's not the only payer digging through its data on prescription drugs to determine what therapies work the best. Medco Health Solutions actually mounted its own clinical trial to test the soon-to-be-generic blood thinner Plavix against its new rival Effient. Of course, U.S. healthcare reform set aside some $1 billion for comparative effectiveness research. So there's plenty more data to come.

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