In recent years, US payers have increased usage of formulary exclusions as a means to help manage costs. Earlier this year, one of the largest pharmacy benefit managers in the country added Eliquis (apixaban), the most widely used anticoagulant, to its list of excluded medicines from its formulary, raising concerns by physicians and patients. In this commentary, we examine the potential impacts of formulary exclusion of a drug like apixaban-a treatment for patients with atrial fibrillation and venous thromboembolism to help prevent stroke and clotting events and which has been demonstrated to have a strong efficacy and safety profile. We discuss the effect of formulary exclusions on patients' ability to access the most clinically appropriate treatment for their health needs, along with possible effects on their health and well-being. We also report descriptive results on apixaban-treated patients with traditional Medicare coverage who faced a formulary exclusion of apixaban in 2017, and these patients' observed behaviors. We found that the majority of these patients remained on apixaban either through pre-emptively switching to a different Part D drug plan with apixaban coverage or applying for formulary exception. Our findings suggest that formulary exclusion did not help to achieve the goal of switching patients to less costly medications but created additional hurdles for patients to access their preferred treatment and increased patient burden. Alternative ways to manage payer costs may be needed to help avoid poor outcomes and reduce the burden placed on patients in their efforts to access life-saving medications.
Keywords: Formulary exclusion; apixaban; atrial fibrillation; off formulary; treatment access; venous thromboembolism.