Benefit Management

ICER Report Aims to Nudge Payers Toward Fairer Drug Coverage Policies

In a new analysis that assesses whether major formularies provide “fair access” to select prescription drugs, payers achieved high scores in most categories. But industry observers as well as the organization behind the report, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), say that conclusion may not be the most important takeaway.

ICER — which is best known for its assessments of prescription drugs’ cost-effectiveness — says in a press release that “one of the most notable results of this effort is the change in coverage policies made by five payers for 11 drugs following receipt of draft results of the assessment.”

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Amazon Offers Subscription Scripts, Optum Rx to Roll Up Coupons for Members

UnitedHealth Group’s Optum Rx PBM is rolling out a new price shopping tool, while Amazon.com Inc.’s pharmacy division is offering a flat-rate monthly prescription service to Prime members. Experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that the new offerings are signs that disruptors like Amazon, Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Co. and GoodRx Inc. are mounting an effective challenge to traditional generics coverage inside the pharmacy benefit.

Amazon’s new offering, RxPass, will allow members to pay a flat fee of $5 per month to fill any combination of 52 eligible generics, plus free delivery, per a Jan. 24 press release. RxPass will be available in 42 states.

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Medicaid Faces Behavioral Health Provider Shortage, but MCOs Can Help

Amid heightened demand for mental health care, Medicaid managed care plans are struggling to connect their members with behavioral health care services. New research from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reveals that low payment rates, along with administrative burden and slow revenue cycles, are key reasons why Medicaid beneficiaries can’t access mental health care despite high need.

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New Organization Will Focus on Medical Benefit Drugs

A group of Blue Cross and Blue Shield-affiliated companies recently unveiled a new medication contracting organization focused on medical benefit drugs. The new company, known as Synergie Medication Collective, will be successful in improving the affordability of these treatments and patients’ access to them, an industry expert says, but it also will need to show that patients are seeing those savings.

Unveiled Jan. 5, the company says it “is focused on improving affordability and access to costly medical benefit drugs — ones that are injected or infused by a health care professional in a clinical setting — for nearly 100 million Americans.” It will focus not only on infusible treatments for conditions such as cancer but also on multimillion dollar gene therapies. The company says its goal is to “significantly reduce medical benefit drug costs by establishing a more efficient contracting model based upon its collective reach and engagement with pharmaceutical manufacturers and other industry stakeholders.” It plans to “bring to market several new product offerings” this year, among them “transformative value-based models.”

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TRICARE Program at a Glance

The U.S. Dept. of Defense recently awarded $136 billion in contracts for its TRICARE program that provides health care benefits to military service members, retirees and their families. The contract award for the West region went to TriWest Healthcare Alliance of Phoenix, which is partnering with Regence health plans and Health Care Service Corp. to administer the program. Humana Government Business Inc. will continue to serve the East region when the next contracts begin in 2024. Currently, Health Net Federal Services LLC, a subsidiary of Centene Corp., covers the West region with about 2.8 million beneficiaries, and Humana covers the East region with more than 6.8 million enrollees. In 2024, six states in the East region — Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin, with a total of 1.5 million beneficiaries — will transfer to the West region in order to balance out the number of beneficiaries served by the two regions.

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With New TRICARE Pacts, Defense Dept. Pledges to Learn From Past Contractor Squabbles

Right before the holidays, the U.S. Dept. of Defense (DOD) offered a gift to Humana Inc., renewing its contract to manage health care services for TRICARE beneficiaries via a new $70.9 billion pact that begins in 2024. Yet Centene Corp. received an unwelcome surprise when it learned that its current TRICARE contract will expire at the end of 2023 and then move to a company called TriWest Healthcare Alliance.

Meanwhile, the new contracts appear aimed at addressing troubles that have dogged the military health care program in the past, such as rocky contractor transitions and concerns about continuity of care for families that change locations much more often than their civilian counterparts. In addition to active-duty service members and their families, TRICARE serves retirees and their families, survivors, and certain former spouses.

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TRICARE Program at a Glance

The U.S. Dept. of Defense recently awarded $136 billion in contracts for its TRICARE program that provides health care benefits to military service members, retirees and their families. The contract award for the West region went to TriWest Healthcare Alliance of Phoenix, which is partnering with Regence health plans and Health Care Service Corp. to administer the program. Humana Government Business Inc. will continue to serve the East region when the next contracts begin in 2024. Currently, Health Net Federal Services LLC, a subsidiary of Centene Corp., covers the West region with about 2.8 million beneficiaries, and Humana covers the East region with more than 6.8 million enrollees. In 2024, six states in the East region — Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin, with a total of 1.5 million beneficiaries — will transfer to the West region in order to balance out the number of beneficiaries served by the two regions.

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New Organization Will Focus on Medical Benefit Drugs

A group of Blue Cross and Blue Shield-affiliated companies recently unveiled a new medication contracting organization focused on medical benefit drugs. The new company, known as Synergie Medication Collective, will be successful in improving the affordability of these treatments and patients’ access to them, an industry expert says, but it also will need to show that patients are seeing those savings.

Unveiled Jan. 5, the company says it “is focused on improving affordability and access to costly medical benefit drugs — ones that are injected or infused by a health care professional in a clinical setting — for nearly 100 million Americans.” It will focus not only on infusible treatments for conditions such as cancer but also on multimillion dollar gene therapies. The company says its goal is to “significantly reduce medical benefit drug costs by establishing a more efficient contracting model based upon its collective reach and engagement with pharmaceutical manufacturers and other industry stakeholders.” It plans to “bring to market several new product offerings” this year, among them “transformative value-based models.”

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News Briefs: Centene Shakes Up C-Suite

Centene Corp. on Dec. 14 made several C-suite changes in order to “position the company for its next stage of growth.” Ken Fasola, who is currently the firm’s executive vice president of Health Care Enterprises, will be Centene’s new president, while current Executive Vice President and Chief Transformation Officer Jim Murray will become EVP, chief operating officer and report to Fasola. In addition, Dave Thomas will transition from EVP of Markets to CEO of Markets and Medicaid, and President and Chief Operating Officer Brent Layton will become senior adviser to CEO Sarah London “as he begins his transition towards retirement,” the company said.

Separately, Centene on its investor day projected total revenues in the range of $137.4 billion to $139.4 billion and adjusted diluted earnings per share (EPS) in the range of $6.25 to $6.40 in 2023. The firm also said it expects a health benefits ratio (also known as medical loss ratio) of 87.2% to 87.8% next year. “CNC’s ’23 outlook included EPS as expected, though revenue was light,” Jefferies analyst David Windley advised investors in a Dec. 18 research note. He added that Centene’s long-term targets for revenue growth by segment and consolidated EPS growth “are favorable to recent performance, and squarely within a common range across MCOs.”

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Customer Satisfaction With PBMs Drops to a Three-Year Low, Study Reports

Plan sponsors’ overall satisfaction with their PBMs was 7.8 on a 1-10 scale in 2022, down from 8.2 last year, according to Pharmaceutical Strategies Group’s 2022 Pharmacy Benefit Manager Customer Satisfaction Report. The report was based on surveys completed by 236 individuals representing employers, unions/Taft Hartley plans, health plans and health systems that covered an estimated 76 million lives. Respondents reported a lower likelihood to recommend their PBM to a colleague or to renew their contract without issuing a competitive request for proposal this year, highlighting costs as the primary driver to leave the PBM.

Among core PBM services, satisfaction was highest for “offering competitive traditional drug discounts” and “meeting financial guarantees.” As clinical and cost management programs play a key role in reducing overall costs, 82% of respondents reported using utilization management, while only 8% used gene therapy financial protection programs.

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