Radar on Drug Benefits

Amazon Opens Up ‘RxPass’ to Medicare Enrollees, but Will They Bite?

Amazon Pharmacy revealed earlier this month that its RxPass subscription savings program is now available to “more than 50 million Medicare beneficiaries,” allowing those who are Prime members to get 60 common generic medications delivered for a $5 monthly fee. Industry experts tell AIS Health that they can see the appeal in such an offering — including both convenience and potential cost savings — but they aren’t expecting the newly expanded service to significantly impact the Medicare Part D space.

“To be very honest, when I read the news, I didn’t really give it too much of a second glance,” says Marc Guieb, Pharm.D., a consultant at Milliman. “In terms of big-picture market stuff, I don’t think this really is going to change much or have any sort of tangible effects.”

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Here’s Why States, Pharmacists Want SCOTUS to Weigh Another PBM Case

Although the Supreme Court has already weighed in on one case regarding states’ ability to regulate PBMs, the top law enforcement officials in more than 30 states are asking the high court to review another case that they claim will remove lingering uncertainty about the limits of states’ authority.

In PCMA v. Mulready, the current case, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association is challenging an Oklahoma law — the Patient’s Right to Pharmacy Choice Act — which sets geography-based access standards for pharmacy networks. Among other provisions, it also bans PBMs from using discounts or cost-sharing differences to push plan members to certain in-network pharmacies, particularly those owned by that same PBM’s parent company.

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News Briefs: State Officials Urge SCOTUS Review of PBM Regulation Case

A bipartisan group of state attorneys general recently filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, asking it to review an appeals court decision that limited states’ ability to regulate PBMs. In August 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled to block an Oklahoma law that contained provisions such as setting uniform standards for pharmacy networks and banning PBMs from using discounts to drive customers to pharmacies owned by their parent companies. That ruling was the result of a challenge to the Oklahoma law brought by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA). In PCMA v. Mulready, the PBM trade group argued that Oklahoma’s law is preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the statues governing Medicare Part D. But in their brief urging the Supreme Court to review the case, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) and his colleagues argue that the Tenth Circuit’s broad approach to federal preemption would “severely and unduly impede states’ abilities to protect their residents and regulate businesses.” In a similar case regarding an Arkansas law regulating PBMs, Rutledge v. PCMA, the Supreme Court rejected the PBM trade group’s ERISA-preemption argument.

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Midsize Plans Struggle to Pay for Cell, Gene Therapies, Execs Say

It's no secret that health plans are concerned that they may not be able to afford gene and cell therapies with new or anticipated approvals. With expensive launches on the horizon, plans are searching for payment models that can grant patients access to lifesaving or life-changing therapies without blowing budgets.

Those concerns are particularly acute for smaller, regional health insurers and employer plan sponsors. Those payers may have tight balance sheets and lack the pricing advantages that national insurers can leverage in negotiations with manufacturers. Midsize plan executives say their organizations are figuring out what to do as they go along.

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Medicaid Programs Are Slow to Cover GLP-1s, but That Could Soon Change

Most states do not cover GLP-1s and other obesity medications for Medicaid beneficiaries, according to a recent analysis. However, one of the report’s authors tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that more states are pondering whether to place GLP-1s on their formularies and weighing the drugs’ health benefits with their high costs.

The Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance and the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) released the report on June 3 based on data from fee-for-service and managed Medicaid programs in 2023. STOP, which is housed within the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, conducts research, makes policy recommendations and develops online resources. OAC is an advocacy organization with more than 80,000 members.

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Optum Rx’s PBM Pricing Model May Have Hidden Costs

Experts say they’re skeptical that a pricing tool unveiled on May 20 by Optum Rx, UnitedHealth Group’s PBM division, will make significant changes to the PBM business model or generate major savings for plan sponsors. Indeed, some experts say that the model, Clear Trend Guarantee, could in practice be used to obscure rebate revenue that plan sponsors would otherwise collect.

According to a UnitedHealth press release, the new product “combines guarantees into a single per member cost” that “will offer drug benefit plan sponsors greater predictability of pharmacy spend to help manage total lowest net cost.”

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More MA Enrollees Are Facing Step Therapy Requirements for Part B Drugs

Over half of Medicare Advantage enrollees were in plans that applied step therapy to the 10 most commonly used rheumatoid arthritis (RA) medications covered by Medicare Part B in 2023, according to a recent Avalere analysis.

Since 2019, CMS has given MA plans the ability to use step therapy protocols — meaning a patient may be required to try a less expensive drug before moving to the more expensive one — for physician-administered and other Part B medications. Avalere analyzed MA plans’ annual medical policy and formulary restrictions for 22 RA drugs from 2018 to 2023 and found that the percentage of MA beneficiaries in plans that use step therapy has increased steadily since 2019. For two of the drugs studied, 78% of enrollees were in MA plans that applied step therapy in 2023.

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At Investor Conferences, Execs Paint PBM Reform as Afterthought

During recent investor conference presentations, executives from major managed care companies expressed little concern that PBM reform — which once seemed like a much more acute threat — will impact their businesses anytime soon. Those remarks come even as a large coalition of interest groups is hoping to push lawmakers into refueling the issue’s momentum.

“I would say it is difficult to get alignment and bipartisan support on the specifics relative to PBM [reform],” CVS Health Corp. CEO Karen Lynch said during a “fireside chat” on May 29 at the Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference. “I think if anything happens, it'll be on transparency, but you have seen time and time again that there's been some challenges.”

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Plans Take Wait-and-See Approach to Vendors Promising Help with Weight Loss Medication Costs

As the use of and interest in GLP-1 medications for weight loss increases, numerous vendors are pitching self-insured health plans on solutions to manage the demand and high costs of the medications. However, benefits experts say employers are approaching these outside companies with caution and are still trying to figure out how to manage the significant expenses associated with GLP-1 drugs.

Chantell Sell Reagan, Pharm.D., WTW’s national pharmacy clinical leader, estimates that about 25 to 30 vendors are marketing solutions to employers to help with FDA-approved weight loss medications such as Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy (semaglutide) and Eli Lilly & Co.’s Zepbound (tirzepatide). Wegovy and Zepbound are also approved to treat type 2 diabetes under the brand names Ozempic and Mounjaro, respectively.

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Studies: IRA Will Spur Medicare Biosimilar Adoption — and Shift Costs to Part D Plans

Medicare Part D plans are likely to revise their biosimilar formulary management policies as a result of recent regulatory changes, not least the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Part D payers will also be on the hook for a greater share of the cost of biosimilars going forward.

A study in Health Affairs released in May makes the case that the longstanding gap in the coverage of biosimilar products between employer-sponsored insurance plans and Medicare Part D plans is likely to shrink in 2025, when several key components of the IRA take effect.

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