Market access

Market Concentration Pushes up ACA Plan Premiums, Analysis Shows

High gross premiums in the Affordable Care Act marketplaces are related to limited choices of health plans and high levels of hospital concentration, a recent Urban Institute report shows.

The study analyzed insurer and premium participation data from more than 503 rating areas on HealthCare.gov and state-based marketplaces from 2019 to 2024. In 2024, the average national benchmark premium — the second-lowest-cost silver premium — is $473. State average benchmark premiums range from $335 in New Hampshire to $886 in Alaska. Average annual premium growth between 2019 and 2024 was modest, averaging 0.2% per year.

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Current Market Access to GLP-1s

In March, the FDA approved Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy (semaglutide) for cardiovascular risk reduction, which could further boost the already-strong sales for the GLP-1 weight-loss medication.

Specifically, Wegovy is now approved to reduce risk of “major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) including cardiovascular death, non-fatal heart attack (myocardial infarction) or non-fatal stroke” in adults who are either overweight or obese and have established cardiovascular disease, per a Novo press release.

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Wegovy’s New Indication Turns Up Heat on Employers Sweating GLP-1 Costs

When the FDA approved Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy (semaglutide) for reducing the risk of serious heart problems, it paved the way for Medicare Part D plans to cover the drug. Industry experts also predict that the drug’s expanded indication will pressure more commercial insurers and their plan-sponsor clients to cover the pricey — and increasingly popular — medication.

“The pressure is just going to be too much” for commercial plans to avoid broadening their GLP-1 coverage, says Debra Devereaux, principal and chief pharmacy/clinical officer at Rebellis Group. However, she cautions that there may not be many significant coverage-policy changes this year.

Many commercial health plans already cover the drug for weight loss. Data from MMIT, AIS Health’s parent company, show that in 31 states, pharmacy formularies that cover more than half of commercial-plan enrollees categorize Wegovy as “preferred” or “preferred with utilization management restrictions.”

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Big Three PBMs Cover Opill With $0 Cost Sharing for Most Commercial Plans

The Big Three PBMs — UnitedHealth Group’s Optum Rx, CVS Health Corp.’s Caremark, and The Cigna Group’s Express Scripts — have opted to cover Perrigo Co.’s over-the-counter birth control pill, Opill (norgestrel), at no cost to members in most non-grandfathered commercial plans, according to one expert. That suggests they are taking proactive steps to comply with potential rulemaking that could require most health plans to cover Opill and other types of over-the-counter birth control without cost sharing.

“There has been pretty broad, in the industry, adoption of Opill to the ACA preventive list,” Cody Midlam, Pharm.D., tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT. Midlam is a director at the benefits consulting firm WTW. “If a drug is on that list, that is generally available at $0 cost share at the point of sale for members.”

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Califf: AI, Drug Shortages, Cell and Gene Therapies Are Among FDA Priorities

Artificial intelligence (AI), drug shortages and cell and gene therapies are just a few of the areas on which the FDA is focusing during a major reorganization. Those were some of the topics that FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, M.D., discussed with Mike Tuffin, president and CEO of AHIP, at the insurer trade group’s 2024 Medicare, Medicaid, Duals & Commercial Markets Forum, held March 12 through 14 in Baltimore.

When asked his vision for the FDA in 2024 and beyond, Califf responded that 2024 priorities were different because it’s an election year, and the agency’s priorities are “tied to the administration that’s in place.”

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Pharma Takes Aim at New Legal Foe: State Drug Affordability Boards

Prescription drug affordability boards (PDABs) have been rising in popularity as a way for states to tamp down on soaring drug prices. But a recent lawsuit filed by one drugmaker and public remarks from the industry’s main trade group make it clear that the pharma sector sees such boards — and the price caps some are authorized to set — as a major threat.

In a suit filed on March 22, Amgen Inc. takes aim at Colorado’s Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board, which is the closest to becoming the first state board to set an upper payment limit (UPL) on a drug. The state in late February initiated formal rulemaking to set a UPL for Enbrel (etanercept), Amgen’s rheumatoid arthritis treatment, after determining it was unaffordable.

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Part D Formularies Get More Restrictive, but MA-PDs Beat PDPs on Access

Medicare Part D formularies are becoming more restrictive over time, asserts new research published in the March issue of Health Affairs. Studying Medicare administrative data that included Part D claims and plan formulary characteristics, researchers from the University of Southern California and Blaylock Health Economics found that utilization management tactics such as prior authorization, step therapy and formulary exclusions became far more commonplace between 2011 and 2020. In 2011, an average of 31.9% of drugs were restricted in some form, vs. 44.4% in 2020.

Restrictions varied based on drug costs and the availability of generic alternatives to brand-name drugs. Nearly 70% of brand-name compounds with no generic alternatives were restricted in 2020, compared to 30% of drugs with generic availability. Additionally, the lower the cost of the drug, the less likely it was to be restricted. In 2020, only 16.7% of drugs with generic availability that cost less than $100 per prescription faced restrictions, vs. 83.7% of brand-name only drugs that cost more than $1,000.

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Part D GLP-1 Spend Soars as CMS Makes Key Coverage Decision

Medicare is spending billions on GLP-1s, the groundbreaking diabetes drugs that are now seeing skyrocketing demand for their ability to help patients lose weight. While Medicare Part D plans are prohibited from covering weight loss therapies, a new FDA decision for Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy (semaglutide) could reshape the coverage landscape for some GLP-1s — and drive Part D spending even higher.

A March 22 analysis from KFF found that Part D spending on Novo’s Ozempic (semaglutide) alone reached $4.6 billion in 2022, a 77% increase from the prior year and a 207% increase from 2020. (Novo brands its injectable semaglutide as Ozempic for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes and as Wegovy for weight loss.) KFF found that Part D spending on GLP-1s has grown exponentially every year since 2018. Eli Lilly’s Trulicity (dulaglutide), an older GLP-1 that hit the market in 2014, saw the second-highest gross Part D spending among all therapies in 2022 at $6.2 billion. Ozempic, meanwhile, sat at No. 6. KFF speculated that both Ozempic and Novo’s oral semaglutide Rybelsus could be selected for Medicare drug price negotiation as early as 2025.

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Wegovy Coverage Question Puts Part D Plans in Tricky Position

In newly released guidance, CMS told Medicare Part D plans that they’re allowed to cover weight-loss drugs if they’ve been approved for another medical use — a description fitting Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy (semaglutide) after it recently received an FDA nod for preventing major heart problems.

So far, CVS Health Corp., Elevance Health, Inc. and Kaiser Permanente have said their Part D plans will cover Wegovy for its newest approved use: reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes in people who have cardiovascular disease and who meet body-weight criteria, the Wall Street Journal reported on March 28.

For other insurers that sell Part D plans, the decision about whether to cover Wegovy represents an additional challenge to grapple with, as they’re also facing significant regulatory changes.

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News Briefs: Amazon Pharmacy Teams Up With Lilly

Amazon.com Inc’s pharmacy division will be the exclusive home delivery partner for Eli Lilly & Co.’s direct-to-consumer business, Lilly Direct, which will distribute GLP-1s, among other drugs. In addition, the e-commerce giant now offers same-day delivery of many medications in New York and Los Angeles; it already offered same-day delivery in Austin, Indianapolis, Miami, Phoenix and Seattle. Analysts were positive about the LillyDirect deal: GlobalData’s Costanza Alciati wrote on March 14 that “Surely, by facilitating its medicines’ access in the world’s biggest obesity market, Eli Lilly made a great move to promote [GLP-1] utilization over competitor Novo Nordisk [A/S].” Bank of America analyst Allen Lutz wrote on March 13 that while “Amazon’s entrance into the pharmacy space has been underwhelming,” the LillyDirect deal “reflect[s] a shift in consumer preferences” that Amazon is wise to capitalize on. Lutz added that “patients taking GLP-1 drugs for the first time in 2024 could be introduced to Amazon’s mail pharmacy for the first time, which could potentially create greater awareness of the platform.”

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