Friday, July 29, 2011

New medical FICO score sparks controversy, questions

Jeremy M. Simon, On Thursday July 28, 2011, 8:00 am EDT

Within the next 12 months, whether you like it or not, about 10 million Americans are expected to be scored -- much like a credit score -- on how likely they are to fill a prescription and take all the pills the doctor ordered, on schedule.

FICO , creator of the widely used credit score that predicts whether you'll borrow responsibly, is now rolling out its new Medication Adherence Score.

FICO based its score on a formula that predicts whether you will take your prescription drugs. FICO says that since correct use of medication is important for patients, medical providers, insurers and pharmaceutical companies, the Medication Adherence Score will help achieve that goal. They predict it will improve therapy effectiveness and reduce health care costs.

The company says those who score low can be targeted for extra reminders and educational efforts, with the goal of making patients more likely to complete their prescribed regimens.

"It's very important to identify those people who may need that additional education and that additional help," says Dave Shellenberger, senior principal consultant in FICO's health care division.

Critics aren't so sure. Since the score uses information on patients' employment, homeownership and living situations, they say that in the current economic environment, the Medication Adherence Score may unfairly target people who have found themselves in challenging financial situations. It could also, they say, open the door for a new way for insurance companies to charge different prices for different scores. This happened in recent years to consumers buying auto insurance: The cost of those policies are now likely based on an auto insurance credit score .

What's in the score?
FICO launched the Medication Adherence Score on June 23, 2011. To create the scoring algorithm, FICO looked at data from a random sample of several million anonymous patients provided by a large pharmacy benefits manager. FICO observed patients who filled (or refilled) their prescriptions and patients who failed to, with the company then identifying those variables that best predicted medication adherence. For the Medication Adherence Score, those variables include age, gender, family size and asset information -- such as the likelihood of car ownership -- data also used by direct marketing companies. FICO says that with only a patient's name and address, it can pull the remainder of the necessary information from publicly available sources.

The scores range from 1 to 500. "The higher the score, the higher the likelihood a patient will be adherent to a drug regimen," FICO's Shellenberger says. FICO says patients who score 400 or higher are likely to take medication as prescribed, while those who score below 200 are at high risk of not taking medication. According to FICO, patients who earn a low score may receive a medication reminder in the form of an email, letter or phone call from their doctor -- tactics that would be too costly to apply across the board.

FICO says those who wouldn't want to receive notices should contact their health care providers and ask about their opt-out policies. High scorers who appear likely to take all their meds probably won't be contacted.

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