At the Lupus Foundation of America, we are constantly seeking to improve the lives of people with lupus, including by advocating for policies at both the federal and state level that make it easier for them to access high-quality healthcare and prescription medications.
One of the consistent barriers we hear about from people with lupus is step therapy, which is a tactic used by insurance companies to attempt to lower their costs by pushing patients to cheaper medications instead of the ones prescribed by their physicians.
At its least harmful, step therapy delays people with lupus from accessing the medications prescribed by their doctors – at its most harmful, it can prevent people with lupus from ever being able to access that medication.
Our Advocacy & Government Relations team over the last several years has been advocating for policies at all levels of government that place guardrails around step therapy protocols to ensure people with lupus can access their medications in a timely manner with limited hassle.
What exactly is step therapy?
Step therapy is a cost-containment strategy used by insurance companies that goes into effect when certain medications are prescribed by a patient's healthcare provider. When a medication is subject to step therapy, the insurance company requires the patient to first try a different medication, chosen by the company. After demonstrating that the medication chosen by the insurance company has failed to successfully treat the patient's condition, the patient will be able to access the medication originally prescribed by their provider – for this reason, step therapy protocols are often referred to as "fail-first."
Unfortunately, many people living with lupus are subject to this “fail-first” protocol when it comes to accessing newer medications that may be more expensive for the insurance company. Insurance companies implement this policy to mitigate costs by requiring patients to try the cheaper drug before “stepping up” to the drug originally prescribed by their doctor.