Study: Children Forced to Switch Inhalers Face Increased Risk

Insurance decisions can lead to loss of lung function

Children with asthma who are required to switch inhaler types to accommodate insurance formulary changes may experience a loss of lung function not seen in children whose inhaler type stayed the same, according to Scott Bickel, MD, from the University of Louisville School of Medicine, who will present the study findings at the CHEST Annual Meeting 2019 in New Orleans.

Inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) therapy, a cornerstone of daily asthma management, is delivered by several types of inhalers that require different usage techniques. Insurance formulary coverage often dictates inhaler selection and can change abruptly, requiring children to switch inhaler types with little notice. In this study, moving from beclomethasone dipropionate (BDP) delivered via a metered dose inhaler (MDI) to an ICS delivered by a dry powder inhaler was associated with a loss of lung function.

The researchers retrospectively reviewed charts of children ages 6 to 18 with asthma served by the impacted Medicaid plan from a large, university-based general pediatric clinic who had spirometry performed both before (February to July 2016) and after (February to July 2017) the formulary change. Sixty-eight patients were identified on inhaled controller therapy with 98.5% being supported by MDIs prior to the formulary change and 60% afterwards.

The investigators found that of the 24 patients switched to a dry powder inhaler, the average FEV1, a measure of maximum air expelled in one second, was 99% predicted prior to the change and 89% predicted after being transitioned to the dry powder inhaler. 

“This study demonstrates that formulary-dictated changes in inhaled corticosteroids decreases control of asthma and raises the following question: Are changes in formulary driven only by financial concerns appropriate in patients with asthma?” commented Victor Test, MD, Co-Chair of the CHEST Scientific Program Committee and Professor of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

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