Benefit Design

Some Employers Embrace Alternate Funding Programs Despite Legal Issues

Pharmacy benefit consultants have mixed views on how many plan sponsors are turning to alternate funding programs, which aim to save on specialty drug costs by eliminating coverage for certain drugs and diverting costs to pharmaceutical companies’ patient assistance programs. But scrutiny of the programs is growing, with one major pharma company challenging the legality of these programs in court.

“A large percentage” of WTW’s employer clients now are using this strategy, Chantell Sell Reagan, Pharm.D., the national pharmacy practice clinical lead for WTW, tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT.

New State Regs, Lawsuit Increase Heat on Health Care Sharing Ministries

Scrutiny of health care sharing ministries (HCSMs) is growing, with Colorado becoming the second state to require the entities to submit health care financial data to insurance departments amid stepped-up scrutiny from regulators nationwide. Meanwhile, a Florida health system filed a lawsuit challenging the common practice among HCSMs of pushing members to conceal their sharing ministry enrollment when dealing with providers’ billing departments, which Orlando Health contends is an effort to “illegitimately secure the reduced ‘charity rate.’”

HCSM supporters contend that the religious organization-affiliated ministries provide a less expensive alternative to health insurance for members who agree to comply with faith-based lifestyle restrictions and pledge to “share” medical costs among members. But critics say the programs provide no guarantees of coverage and are exempt from much insurance oversight, while still being marketed in many cases by brokers with terminology such as provider networks and benefit design names that mimic traditional insurance.


Medicare Advantage Organizations Chase ‘Signature Trend’ of Offering Extra Benefits for 2023

Judicious enhancements to supplemental benefits was the common theme as Medicare Advantage organizations prepared their bids for 2023, according to actuaries who recently helped sponsors submit bids that were due on June 6. The benefit changes come as plans considered potential bonus payment losses in 2024 and other possible drivers of increased costs next year.

“The signature trend of this year was carrying forward a lot of the innovative benefits that we’ve seen take hold over the past few years,” remarks Tim Murray, principal with Wakely, an HMA company. These include “wallet” benefits such as over-the-counter card allowances and flexible “choose your own adventure” benefits often involving healthy food and/or groceries, he observes.

News Briefs: Centene Settles New Mexico Medicaid Pharmacy Investigation for $13.7 Million

In the latest settlement with a state Medicaid program over its pharmacy benefit practices, Centene Corp. has agreed to pay $13.7 million to the state of New Mexico. Upon referral from the Office of the State Auditor in collaboration with the New Mexico Health Services Dept. — which oversees the Centennial Care Medicaid program — Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) conducted an investigation focused on “concerns that Centene was layering fees and not passing on retail discounts” to the program, according to a June 13 press release from the AG’s office. Centene has spent millions to settle claims by state Medicaid programs that it overcharged them for prescription drugs and is in the process of restructuring its pharmacy benefit management platform.

FDA’s Rinvoq Approval Brings New Ulcerative Colitis Option

The FDA recently gave an additional indication to AbbVie Inc.’s Rinvoq (upadacitinib) in ulcerative colitis, broadening that therapeutic class even more. And while a study revealed some concerns around another agent with a similar mechanism of action, payers and gastroenterologists last year expressed interest in Rinvoq over other late-stage pipeline agents.

On March 16, the FDA expanded the label of Rinvoq to include the treatment of adults with moderately to severely active ulcerative colitis who have had an inadequate response or intolerance to at least one tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blocker. The agency initially approved the Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor on Aug. 16, 2019. The recommended starting dose for the tablet is 45 mg once daily for eight weeks, followed by a maintenance dose of 15 mg once daily. The wholesale acquisition cost for a 30-day supply is $5,671.26.

Looking to 2023, Employers Focus Benefit Changes on Specialty

Now that many large employers have finalized employee health benefits for 2023, some clear trends are emerging, pharmacy benefit consultants tell AIS Health. Among them: many plan sponsors have traditional drug benefits on auto-pilot but are hyper-focused on high-cost specialty drugs.

For non-specialty drugs, the cost trend is pretty flat, says Paul Burns, a pharmacy practice leader at the HR consulting firm Buck. “There’s been some increases over the pandemic, but it’s not wildly spiking — and that’s where 98% of the utilization is.”

News Briefs: Consulting Firm Sold

Health care consulting firm Avalere Health has been sold to Fishawack Health, by previous owner Inovalon Health. In a letter to clients disclosing the deal, Avalere President Elizabeth Carpenter said that Avalere would “retain our logo and brand,” and “your client teams will remain the same and there will be no change to your current business relationship with Avalere. Everyone you know and love from Avalere is joining Fishawack, including all of our practice leadership.”

A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that little information is available about the role that short-term health plans played during the COVID-19 pandemic — and that state regulators are not watching the industry closely. Short-term health plans are not required to meet all the standard benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Per the report, “GAO found that limited and inconsistent data hinder understanding of the role short-term plans played during the COVID-19 pandemic for those who lost [employer-sponsored insurance], such as whether they were used by consumers as temporary coverage or as a longer-term alternative to ACA-compliant plans….State officials in the five states with plan sales were not able to report on the role of short-term plans for consumers, as none of them collected data on the duration of short-term plan coverage.”


Plan Finder Update Leaves Out Detail on Supplemental Benefits

As CMS continues to seek ways to improve its consumer-facing tools for comparing Medicare coverage options, the agency last month unveiled a series of tweaks to the website and Medicare Plan Finder (MPF). The MPF in 2019 underwent a major makeover that reportedly cost the Trump administration $11 million but critics say fell short of fixing many of the issues highlighted in a July 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office. CMS has continued to make updates based on consumer feedback, but some industry experts suggest more detail around the supplemental benefits offered by Medicare Advantage plans would be useful.

“CMS is making easier to use and more helpful for people seeking to understand their Medicare coverage, which is an essential part of staying healthy,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure in a May 18 press release. “We are committed to listening to the people we serve as we design and deliver new, personalized online resources and expanded customer support options for people with Medicare coverage and those who support them.”

Do Pharma/PBM Contracts Play Role in Drugmakers’ Revenue Leakage?

Pharma manufacturers depend on contracts with PBMs — and, increasingly, their group purchasing organizations (GPOs) — to ensure favorable formulary positioning with PBMs’ health plan and employer clients. But as those contracts have grown more complex and less transparent, drugmakers may be at risk of losing significant amounts of money, according to some industry experts.

Revenue leakage — unintended revenue loss because of process inefficiencies — can be a huge financial drain on pharma manufacturers. It also may potentially result in compliance risks with the Anti-Kickback Statute and its discount safe harbor protections, “so it always has to be clearly defined as to what the rebate or any monies between pharma and the PBM being exchanged; there has to be a reason,” explains Stephanie Seadler, vice president of Trade Relations at EmsanaRx.

AHIP: States Should ‘Carefully Consider’ Basic Health Program

With millions of people at risk of losing Medicaid coverage once the COVID-19 public health emergency ends, two states are setting up insurance programs designed to scoop up people who make too much for Medicaid and find Affordable Care Act exchange coverage unaffordable.

If Oregon and Kentucky follow through on their plans to set up Basic Health Programs (BHPs), they’ll join just two other states — New York and Minnesota — that have taken advantage of an often-overlooked provision of the ACA, Section 1331. However, there is some evidence that health insurers are wary of BHPs gaining traction.