For PBMs, Opportunity Arises Amid Mental Health Rx Surge With Chart: Use of Mental Health Medication Jumps Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Newly released data from Express Scripts shows that the number of prescriptions filled per week for antidepressants, anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia medications combined jumped 21% between mid-February and mid-March — reaching a zenith during the week ending March 15, when the COVID-19 outbreak officially reached pandemic status. And analytics from UnitedHealth Group’s OptumRx showed prescription increases of 15% for anti-anxiety medications, 14% for antidepressants and 5% for anti-insomnia medications during the month of March. In the first three weeks of April, prescriptions for such medications started declining, “but still remain higher than average prescription fills,” according to an OptumRx spokesperson.

Industry consultants tell AIS Health that they’re not at all surprised that the use of such medications is spiking while the country grapples with mounting job losses, disrupted routines, isolation from loved ones and the threat of a highly contagious virus that has caused the deaths of more than 46,000 Americans. And they say that situation creates an urgent opportunity for health insurers that own a PBM — like Express Scripts parent company Cigna Corp. and its peers — to leverage their unique insights into members’ health.

© 2024 MMIT
Leslie Small

Leslie Small

Leslie has been working in journalism since 2009 and reporting on the health care industry since 2014. She has covered the many ups and downs of the Affordable Care Act exchanges, the failed health insurer mega-mergers, and hundreds of other storylines spanning subjects such as Medicaid managed care, Medicare Advantage, employer-sponsored insurance, and prescription drug coverage. As the managing editor of Health Plan Weekly and Radar on Drug Benefits, she writes and edits for both publications while overseeing a small team of reporters who also focus on the managed care sector. Before joining AIS Health, she was a senior editor for the e-newsletter Fierce Health Payer, and she started her career as a copy editor at multiple local newspapers. She graduated with a dual degree in journalism and political science from Penn State University.

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