Spotlight on Market Access

Payer Lobbying May Pale Next to Pharma, but Experts Say Industry Still Packs Clout

While lobbying expenditures from the health care industry have been rising in recent decades, drugmakers and providers — not insurers — are the main drivers of that spending growth, according to recent research. Still, experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that the managed care sector’s influence over policy shouldn’t be underestimated.

“Overall, the fact that the industry keeps lobbying means that this investment has some good return; otherwise, they would have stopped,” says Ge Bai, Ph.D., a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s schools of business and public health.


Health Care Lobbying Rose 70% in 20 Years

Lobbying spending by the health care industries reached $713.6 million in 2020, a 70% increase over the past two decades, according to a recent JAMA Health Forum analysis based on data compiled by OpenSecrets. The growth was mainly driven by pharmaceutical and health product manufacturers and providers. Expenditures were highly concentrated among a small subset of firms, especially for payers, with the top 10% of health plans responsible for 70.4% of spending.


Collaboration Is Needed Among Stakeholders for Genetic Tests to Be Beneficial

As researchers gain growing insight into the mechanics of what makes diseases tick, more and more genetic tests are coming onto the market to help make sure the right patient gets the right drug at the right time. While these diagnostics can help inform diagnosis and treatment for patients, the sheer volume of these tests may be overwhelming payers in their coverage decisions. Stakeholders should work together to help establish the clinical utility that payers need to make coverage decisions on these diagnostics, industry experts say.

Daryl Pritchard, Ph.D., senior vice president of science policy at the Personalized Medicine Coalition (PMC), describes the landscape of coverage for genetic testing as “uneven. Payers are increasingly considering coverage and reimbursement of genetic testing products and services.” However, he tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT, “there remain significant challenges in establishing coverage policies and payment rates for diagnostic tests that reflect the value of their care. As a result, many newer novel diagnostics are under-reimbursed or not covered at all. Such practices ultimately restrict patient access to some needed tests and to optimal care. Coverage and reimbursement policies vary widely among different payers, and decision-making processes are often inconsistent and not transparent.”


NSCLC Boasts Multiple Targeted Therapies, but Many Patients Are Not Benefiting From Them

The FDA has approved around 100 targeted therapies for different types of cancer, with many more in the pipeline. Current agents for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), for example, target more than 10 different biomarkers, and more than 70% of people with the condition have alterations in their tumors that are tied to available treatments. But a recent study found that due to practice gaps in the precision oncology pathway, just more than one-third of patients with biomarkers that could be treated with an FDA-approved therapy are actually benefiting from those drugs.

Lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, and NSCLC makes up the bulk of the cases. Many of the agents approved for NSCLC are targeted therapies that are indicated for specific subsets of the disease, and numerous companion diagnostic tests are available to help providers determine the best treatment for a patient.


In Executive Order, Biden Directs CMMI to Tackle Drug Costs

In an executive order released Oct. 14, the Biden administration directed the CMS Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) to “to consider additional actions to further drive down prescription drug costs,” building on the Medicare drug price negotiation stipulations of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). D.C. insiders tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that CMMI could pull old policy proposals off the shelf when it works to “test new ways of paying for Medicare services that improve the quality of care while lowering costs,” as the administration puts it.

The executive order isn’t specific about what policies the White House would prefer CMMI look into. However, the administration will know the possibilities fairly soon: CMMI will have 90 days to develop recommendations. Per a White House fact sheet, the final product will be “a formal report outlining any plans to use the Innovation Center’s authorities to lower drug costs and promote access to innovative drug therapies for Medicare beneficiaries.”


Employer Plans in 2022: Premium Growth Remains Steady, Mental Health Concerns Employers

The average annual premium for employer-sponsored health insurance in 2022 was $7,911 for single coverage and $22,463 for family coverage, similar to the average premiums last year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation 2022 Employer Health Benefits Survey. On average, employees contributed 17% toward single coverage premiums and 28% toward family coverage premiums. Among employees at small firms, 33% of them chose a plan where the employer paid the entire premium for single coverage, compared with only 6% at large firms. Meanwhile, 31% of small firm workers were in a plan that required them to contribute more than half of the premium for family coverage.


Biosimilars Are Making Inroads Into U.S. Market, but Challenges Remain

Since the FDA’s approval of the first biosimilar — Zarxio (filgrastim-sndz) from Sandoz, a division of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. — on March 6, 2015, the agency has approved almost 40 more agents via the 351(k) pathway established under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA), itself part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Although not all of those agents have launched yet, and almost all of the ones that have are all professionally administered, industry experts say they expect to see more competition in the space, depending on interchangeability status, provider uptake and the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act.


MMIT Payer Portrait: Aetna

CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna is the third-largest health insurer in the U.S., serving more than 22 million lives across all market sectors. Nationally, Aetna ranks No. 3 in administrative services only (ASO) non-risk contracting, No. 4 in the group risk commercial market and No. 3 in Medicare Advantage (MA), an area of significant investment for the insurer in recent years. For the 2023 plan year, Aetna will expand its MA offerings to 141 new counties across its 46-state market, compared to 83 counties in 2022. And as the COVID-19 pandemic rattled the employer group markets, Aetna in 2022 returned to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges after pulling out in 2018. While it enrolls just under 60,000 exchange lives as of October 2022, its footprint will expand to four additional states in 2023.


Digital Prescription Therapeutics Makers Applaud Highmark Coverage Decision

Highmark Health recently implemented a medical policy stating the insurer will cover digital prescription therapeutics (DPTs) under certain circumstances. The decision is “incredibly significant for our industry,” Akili Interactive Labs chief executive and co-founder Eddie Martucci, Ph.D., writes in an email to AIS, a division of MMIT.

Highmark’s policy pertains to Akili’s EndeavorRx treatment for children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder as well as the eight other FDA-approved DPTs, which are software-based therapies to treat medical and behavioral conditions. DPTs treat conditions such as substance use disorder, opioid use disorder, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic lower back pain.


Prescription Drug Spending Increases 16% Over Five Years, Driven by Rising Drug Prices

Total inflation-adjusted spending on prescription drugs grew from $520 billion in 2016 to $603 billion in 2021, before accounting for rebates, according to a report published by HHS’s Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE). Retail drug expenditures represented about 70% of prescription drug spending in 2021. For retail prescription drugs, there was a 13% increase in drug spending over the five years studied, yet only a 5.7% increase in the number of prescriptions.

Meanwhile, more and more Americans received their drugs from mail order pharmacies, clinics and home health care organizations between 2016 and 2021.