Health insurers and the companies that administer employer health plans or Medicare are rolling out online tools that can help plan members better comparison shop for prescription drugs and manage their drug benefits.

Consumers are paying more for their prescriptions these days. As the population ages, consumers also are taking more prescription drugs—especially for expensive chronic care health problems such as cancer.

The average annual prescription drug costs for consumers is now about $1,300, says Milliman, a healthcare actuarial and research firm. More than 500,000 consumers also now spend more than $50,000 on prescription drugs annually, including about 100,000 consumers that pay more than $100,000, says Express Scripts Holding Co., the largest pharmacy benefits management company.

In the wake of rising drug costs, more health insurance companies and the companies that administer employer health plans or government plans such as Medicare are rolling out online tools that can help plan members better comparison shop for prescription drugs and manage their drug benefits.

The web features also let plan members order and renew prescriptions, find a nearby pharmacy and receive medication reminders.

Among the health insurance companies and third-party administrators now offering prescription drug management tools include Aetna Inc., Humana Inc. and Willis Towers Watson

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Their self-service web tools let users enroll, renew, refill or transfer a prescription, comparison shop prescription costs, look up their individual prescription drug history, research drugs, find pharmacies and pay for medications online.

Consumers want a virtual medicine cabinet.

Aetna’s pharmacy manager tool delivers detailed search results that include brand and generic costs, highlighting the less expensive option between mail order and retail pharmacies, says Market research firm Corporate Insight, which recently broke down the features of 17 big healthcare insurance websites.

Results also provide coverage and co-insurance rates for each drug. Participants can make modifications to the pharmacy location and drug frequency from a link at the top of the screen.

Tool tips on each web page provide term definitions and information for searched drugs. If applicable, the search results also provide relevant therapeutic alternatives and additional details, including amount applied to deductible, annual costs, day supply and total quantity.

A manage prescriptions tab at the top of a page offers access to the site’s online pharmacy, and additional drug features include the member’s prescription history. Data includes the prescription’s drug name, dose, Rx number, pharmacy, status and date last filled. Tool tips with information on treatment, interactions and ingestion directions are available for each drug, says Corporate Insight.

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On Humana.com, plan members can access a pharmacy portal that offers prescription, specialty prescription and pharmacy services. The services include starting a new prescription, enrolling a prescription for auto-refill, tracking orders and switching current prescriptions. An Rx Mentor tool is available to help track current medications, manage communication preferences for pharmacy alerts and access tools and resources like a pharmacy locator, prescription cost estimator and drug interactions tool, says Corporate Insight.

More health insurers and plan administrators are adding prescription and pharmacy management tools because consumers are making comparison shopping for their prescriptions drugs a priority, says Corporate Insight. In a recent survey, 53% of consumers noted that having an online pharmacy where they could start or refill a prescription and shop for medication was rated as “very” and “extremely” important, says Corporate Insight. “Consumers want more of the means to do things online,” says Corporate Insight health monitor analyst Jose Santana. “Consumers want a virtual medicine cabinet.”

Willis Towers Watson recently rolled out a new pharmacy benefits management tool for retirees that use its benefits management portal to enroll or renew their Medicare physician and drug coverage. The new tool was rolled out in a pilot test to 108,000 retirees covered by Medicare in October.

The prescription coverage tool matches each retiree’s profile against available Part D prescription drug plans and, in many cases, recommends a new plan on the basis of total annual cost including premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses and coverage of the individual’s medications. The tool guides retirees through an online portal to assess whether their plan offers the best available coverage for their current prescription needs.

If it doesn’t, the tool helps retirees compare plans and switch to a lower-cost or more comprehensive alternative if one exists,” says Ben Pajak, Willis Towers Watson individual marketplace leader, benefits delivery and administration. “This new tool empowers our participants to shop for coverage that fits their current health status and covers their current medications, which could be very different from when they originally chose a plan,” he says.

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Health insurers and plan members also are making their pharmacy benefits management tools more widely available—and mobile. Willis Towers Watson is now making available its new prescription drug management tool to more than 1.7 million consumers that use its portal. Humana is making its prescription drug tool available by app.

The new Apple and Android app from Humana—RxMentor—offers Humana plan members who download the free app a range of features to better manage prescriptions. With the app, plan members can keep an up-to-date list of their prescription medications, vitamins and supplements and other over-the-counter items and personal allergy information and automatically receive medication histories and updates. Medication updates are based on claims data for the past 180 days.

The app enables Humana plan members to print a list of their medications or share it via e-mail with family, doctors and other healthcare providers. They also can use the app to make notes about a medication, such as how to take it, when to take it and any reactions.

For members with multiple conditions and on several medications or needing a comprehensive medication review, the RxMentor app will prompt them to schedule a complementary one-on-one consultation with a Humana pharmacist.

“Managing multiple daily medications is challenging especially when those medications might be prescribed for a member by multiple physicians,” says Humana’s healthcare services president William Fleming. “The tool can take some of those barriers away by giving our members an easier way to keep track of and communicate all their medication to their doctors and caregivers.”

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