When Kyle Flannery decided to become a pharmacist he thought he would graduate from pharmacy school and then after a few years open his own drugstore.That was before he interned at a Pennsylvania pharmacy and found out just how little he knew about the economic side of the health care industry. He didn’t fully understand why some drugs were covered by health insurance and others weren’t and wondered just how those determinations were being made.
“I often had to tell customers that the drug that was being prescribed was not going to be reimbursed by the insurance company,” said Flannery. “I had the clinical training I needed, but I didn’t understand how managed care and health insurance companies operated.”
This realization changed Flannery’s career path and convinced him to become one of the first students to begin a new master’s of science degree in health outcomes, policy and economics at Rutgers University this fall.
The new joint-degree program – conceived by Christopher Molloy, Rutgers senior vice president of research and economic development and the former dean of the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers – brings together the Rutgers schools of Pharmacy and Public Health.
Even before the Affordable Health Care Act became law, Molloy, who had a career in the pharmaceutical industry before coming to Rutgers in 2007, believed that there would be a continued need for trained health care professionals who could look at the research and measure the therapeutic and economic benefits of health care treatments and drug therapies.
Many of the top pharmaceutical and health care companies agreed. Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, Celgene, Novo Nordisk, Sanofi and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, have donated more than $2.5 million to help kick-start the two-year program that will train students to not only work in the pharmaceutical industry but also for hospitals, insurance companies and government agencies.
“To be able to make decisions based on the best therapeutics to use in order to provide the best health outcomes and the most cost effectiveness is going to continue to be a very important area in health care,” said Molloy. “Pharmacy, nursing, public health and students studying economics and public policy should have great job prospects in this area.”
Kimberly McGuigan, the executive director of the program who joined Rutgers last year, said the new graduate program will focus on health economics, epidemiology, biostatistics and U.S. health care policy. A goal of the program is to teach students how to evaluate biomedical research and economic models to try to improve health care decisions that need to be made by patients, health care providers and payers.
As part of the program, she said, students will have the opportunity to be mentored by a senior executive or researcher in the private health care sector – providing them with broader insight into how scientific evidence is used to evaluate innovations in health care delivery and financing.
Joseph Barone, dean of the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers, said there are also potential benefits and opportunities for students in the new program from the research being done at Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Policy and Aging Research, part of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) division. RBHS includes two medical schools, a school of nursing, school of public health, school of pharmacy, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, school of dental medicine and school of health related professions in addition to the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, and the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute.
And with millions of Americans joining the ranks of the insured, Barone said he believes there will continue to be a need for health care professionals who can determine what drugs and medical treatments are economically feasible and beneficial to patients.
“What we need to do is balance access and economics,” said Barone. “It is evident that somebody is going to have to pay for health care in the United States and this program will enable graduates to become involved in helping to shape future health care policy in this country.”