Early in her career in healthcare, Anurati Mathur started thinking that the US system’s approach to costs was all wrong.
Then she had a personal brush with it at the pharmacy counter. Mathur went to pick up a prescription, but it turned out to be prohibitively expensive. So instead of purchasing it, she left it there.
The pharmacy kept calling her, telling her that the prescription was ready. But “you’re not really addressing the root cause of why I’m not getting the prescription, which is cost,” she says.
That’s the driving ambition behind health-tech startup Sempre Health, which Mathur co-founded at the end of 2015 with Swaraj Banerjee, a onetime Zynga engineer. Mathur, 30, is now Sempre’s CEO and Banerjee, 29, is its chief technology officer. (The two married last year.)
Sempre has raised $10.5 million in its seed and Series A rounds, and its valuation hasn’t been disclosed. The startup isn’t currently fundraising, so the pitch deck is a “starting point” for conversations with any investor, Mathur said. The pitch deck, which was provided by Sempre, is new and will be the basis for those conversations moving forward.
Sempre takes aim at a well-known problem with people and their pills: that they don’t always take them.
Nearly 4 billion prescriptions are written in the US each year, but one in five are never filled, and about half of those remaining aren’t taken properly, one 2017 report found. The reasons behind those stats are complex, according to that report, shaped by factors like difficulty paying, patients forgetting or not understanding how to properly take a medication, and more.
Sempre gives patients a discount if they pick up their prescription at the pharmacy more quickly. The startup has so far brought down a patient’s share of costs by about 45% on average, if they pick up their prescription within eight days. Savings each year come to about $250 per member, per drug.
Sempre communicates with patients largely via text messages, letting them know about the discounts and when they’re available.
That tech is crucial, the startup says, because people read and respond to texts quickly, and don’t want to download an app.
Mathur and Kyle Wildnauer-Haigney, Sempre’s vice president of business development, used to work together at kidney dialysis giant DaVita.
“From our firsthand experience, when you ask a patient who has a million other things to worry about and should worry about to download an app— we wanted to make it really as lightweight as possible,” Wildnauer-Haigney said.
Money for the discounts comes from big-name pharma companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca. The companies would otherwise use the funds for drug coupons, an industry which gives $4 billion a year to patients.
Sempre is just getting started convincing health plans and employers to sign on. Participants include large regional Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plans, with 26,000 patients under contract so far. There’s a different program with WellCare focused on Medicare.
About 20 to 30 drugs are eligible for the discounts, for chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Drugmaker coupons are illegal for government programs like Medicare, so that population may not be eligible for Sempre.
The health insurer and hospital system University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which covers 3.5 million individuals with its insurance products, is another participant. UPMC uses the discounts for four drugs — three blood thinners and one diabetes drug — with interest in an expansion to cover more drugs.
UPMC has seen the program improve how much patients take their medications. For instance, in the first year of use for the blood thinner Brilinta,which can lower the chance of an individual having another heart attack, more than 90% of prescription fills were done on time, and 95% of members took their prescriptions as intended more than 80% of the time.
“The thing I really like about it is the proactive nature of it. Think about it: People are really busy in their lives. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, you just don’t get your refills on time,” Chronis Manolis, senior vice president of pharmacy and chief pharmacy officer at UPMC, told Business Insider.
The startup plans to expand to new health insurers next. And as the Trump administration weighs getting rid of drug rebates in certain government programs, Sempre is billing its service as a potential solution, calling that a big opportunity.
There are rivals, including drug discount companies like GoodRx and Blink Health, and industry giants like McKesson, which runs copay coupon programs. Health-tech company mPulse Mobile also uses text messages to get patients to take meds on time. But Sempre is unique, Mathur says, because it works with health insurance to provide discounts and aims at improving medication adherence, too.