Drug Rebates

Incorporating Pharmacy Spending in Value-Based Payment Models Remains Challenging

Payers face challenges incorporating drug spending into value-based payment models, making it difficult to reduce overall health care costs, according to panelists who participated in a session at the virtual Value-Based Payment Summit on Jan. 31. The speakers were encouraged with the increased attention being paid to expensive medications and difficulties in ensuring people take their prescriptions. However, they stressed that more needs to be done to educate providers and ensure pharmacy spending is in check.

Frank W. McStay, II, assistant research director at the Duke University Margolis Institute for Health Policy and the session’s moderator, noted the federal government and states have recently proposed and implemented policies to reduce drug costs and increase access to medications. For instance, the Biden administration on Jan. 30 announced that it planned to increase access to sickle cell treatments via the Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) Access Model that CMS introduced last year.

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Direct-to-Consumer Prescribing Could Have Downsides

UnitedHealth Group’s Optum division recently launched a new direct-to-consumer telehealth prescribing venture as part of its Optum Perks vertical, joining a crowded field of DTC prescribing and dispensing. Experts say that the Optum Perks debut is proof that DTC prescribing around “lifestyle drugs” will likely continue to grow rapidly, but they say that there are clear downsides around utilization management and care coordination — particularly where glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists are concerned.

Optum Perks’ rollout follows closely on the heels of Eli Lilly & Co.’s Lilly Direct launch, which also saw a health care giant steer into DTC prescribing waters. Lilly and industry watchers say that Lilly Direct is mainly intended to dispense its tirzepatide GLP-1 drugs, known by the brand names Mounjaro and Zepbound. Patients may or may not be able to obtain GLP-1s from Optum Perks; UnitedHealth’s press release doesn’t have a comprehensive list of drugs offered under the service, although it says that “low-cost care and prescription treatments for hundreds of conditions ranging from acne to a cough to high blood pressure” are available.

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News Briefs: U.S. Pays 278% More for Drugs than Other Countries

U.S. patients paid an estimated 278% more for prescription drugs than patients in other high-income countries did for the same drugs in 2022, according to a RAND Corp. study. U.S. gross prices for brand-name originator drugs were 422% higher than drugs in the comparison countries, RAND found; after rebates were applied, brand-name drugs still cost more than three times the amount paid in other countries. Unbranded generics were the only category that were not “substantially higher” in price than drugs in other countries. As RAND pointed out, unbranded generics account for 90% of U.S. drug volume but just 8% of total drug spending at manufacturer gross prices.

A Johnson & Johnson employee sued the firm over allegations that the medical manufacturing giant overpaid for prescription drugs dispensed by the firm’s employee health plan — which she alleges is a violation of J&J’s fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The suit is part of what some legal experts have predicted will be a “” of litigation against plan sponsors that may have paid more than they should have for certain health care services and products, potentially including prescription drugs or pharmacy benefits. The plaintiff in the suit is Ann Lewandowski, a health care policy and advocacy director at J&J, STAT reported.

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Fresh Off New Funding Round, PBM SmithRx Targets ‘Underserved’ Market

Last year, as the country’s three dominant PBMs faced an unprecedented amount of scrutiny, smaller firms saw an opportunity to step into the spotlight. Thus, they founded Transparency-Rx, a coalition of PBMs with “transparent” business models and a shared goal of pushing for the reform their larger rivals were resisting.

One of the members of that new coalition, SmithRx, announced on Jan. 23 that it closed a $60 million Series C financing round led by the health care venture capital firm Venrock. The latest funding infusion, which builds on a $20 million Series B round raised in 2022, positions SmithRx to continue fixing a “broken” pharmacy pricing system, according to its founder and CEO, Jake Frenz.

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CVS Removes Humira From Formulary — But the Fine Print Is Key

CVS Health Corp.’s PBM, CVS Caremark, said recently that it will remove AbbVie’s immunosuppressive drug Humira (adalimumab) from its major national commercial template formularies. The move comes on the heels of a year in which 14 near-identical copies of the world’s best-selling drug entered the U.S. market after years of delays, leading major PBMs to generally put selections of several biosimilars on the same coverage tiers as their reference product.

Yet while Wall Street analysts heralded CVS’s decision as an indication that it’s become a trailblazer in the biosimilar space, one prominent PBM critic remains skeptical of the company’s motivations — especially since CVS is working with Humira’s manufacturer on a new cobranded version of the drug.

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CVS Removes Humira From Formulary — But the Fine Print Is Key

CVS Health Corp.’s PBM, CVS Caremark, said recently that it will remove AbbVie’s immunosuppressive drug Humira (adalimumab) from its major national commercial template formularies. The move comes on the heels of a year in which 14 near-identical copies of the world’s best-selling drug entered the U.S. market after years of delays, leading major PBMs to generally put selections of several biosimilars on the same coverage tiers as their reference product.

Yet while Wall Street analysts heralded CVS’s decision as an indication that it’s become a trailblazer in the biosimilar space, one prominent PBM critic remains skeptical of the company’s motivations — especially since CVS is working with Humira’s manufacturer on a new cobranded version of the drug.

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Expect Impact From Patient-Paid Prescriptions, GLP-1s to Continue, While PBM Business Models Remain Murky

While the U.S. finally had biosimilar competition for AbbVie Inc.’s Humira (adalimumab) in 2023, it may take longer than anticipated for the agents to truly have an impact. That’s one of the trends moving into 2024 that Adam J. Fein, Ph.D., CEO of Drug Channels Institute, discussed during a recent webinar. While the impact of the glucagon-like peptide 1s (GLP1s) and patient-paid prescriptions will persist, the uptake of copay offset tools is subsiding, he said during the Dec. 15 webinar, titled Drug Channels Outlook 2024. In this first of a two-part series, AIS Health highlights the first half of the trends projected by the longtime industry expert.

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New ‘Transparent’ Drug Pricing Models Won’t Change Much, Experts Predict

CVS Health Corp.’s Caremark is the latest big PBM to offer clients new pricing models that the company claims will increase transparency and reduce overhead. Experts say that the new offerings are not as transparent as CVS claims they are, and constitute a response to various pressures including likely federal PBM reforms, scrutiny from plan sponsors and disruptive business trends like the growth of Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Co.

Most experts expect that the new CVS offerings, called CostVantage and TrueCost, will only make a marginal difference — if any — in either drug costs or price transparency. Industry observers point to similar product rollouts by the other two of the Big Three PBMs, UnitedHealth Group’s Optum Rx and The Cigna Group’s Express Scripts, neither of which seemed to dampen the firms' PBM earnings. Express Scripts’ ClearCareRx and Optum Rx’s Cost Clarity launched in April and May, respectively. Express Scripts also rolled out a new “cost-plus pharmacy pricing” option, called ClearNetwork, in November.

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New ‘Transparent’ Drug Pricing Models Won’t Change Much, Experts Predict

CVS Health Corp.’s Caremark is the latest big PBM to offer clients new pricing models that the company claims will increase transparency and reduce overhead. Experts say that the new offerings are not as transparent as CVS claims they are, and constitute a response to various pressures including likely federal PBM reforms, scrutiny from plan sponsors and disruptive business trends like the growth of Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Co.

Most experts expect that the new CVS offerings, called CostVantage and TrueCost, will only make a marginal difference — if any — in either drug costs or price transparency. Industry observers point to similar product rollouts by the other two of the Big Three PBMs, UnitedHealth Group’s Optum Rx and The Cigna Group’s Express Scripts, neither of which seemed to dampen the firms' PBM earnings. Express Scripts’ ClearCareRx and Optum Rx’s Cost Clarity launched in April and May, respectively. Express Scripts also rolled out a new “cost-plus pharmacy pricing” option, called ClearNetwork, in November.

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Medicare Part D Coverage for Humira Biosimilars Has Inspector General’s Attention

The HHS Office of Inspector General will evaluate the extent and quality of Medicare Part D plan coverage for biosimilars to AbbVie Inc.’s Humira (adalimumab) and expects to issue a report on the study in 2025, according to a recent update to the OIG’s work plan.

The study could provide fodder for reforms to pharmacy benefit manager rebating practices and for changes in Part D coverage policy that could help boost the uptake of biosimilars. Stakeholders and policy makers have viewed adalimumab biosimilars as a test case for the viability of the biosimilar model.

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