Medicare Advantage Rx Drug

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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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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CenterWell Pharmacy Exec: New App Targets Digitally Savvy Seniors

Like its competitors, Humana Inc.’s evolution from a pure-play health insurer to a highly diversified health care firm came with a rebranding. To that end, Humana Pharmacy — the company’s mail-order and retail pharmacy brand — in 2022 became CenterWell Pharmacy, nestled under the company’s CenterWell health services subsidiary. Now, that division not only has a new name, but also a new app.

The app — which is available to CenterWell Pharmacy members covered by Humana’s Medicare Advantage and Part D plans — represents a “total redesign,” with increased personalization capabilities and a streamlined approach to prescription management, the firm said in a Feb. 20 press release.

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Part D ‘Copay Smoothing’ Rollout Might Be Bumpy, Some Experts Warn

In a new draft guidance document, CMS lays out a litany of tasks Medicare Part D plans must complete to help enrollees take advantage of an Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provision that allows people to pay off their prescription drug copays over time.

The memo is the second draft guidance document released by CMS regarding the Medicare Prescription Payment Plan, or “copay smoothing” — a program that the managed care sector appears to be growing uneasy about.

“Part D smoothing is coming; it’s coming like a typhoon,” said Nikki Hungate, an industry consultant speaking at the 7th Annual Medicare Advantage Leadership Innovations conference, held Jan. 30-31 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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New Medicare Out-of-Pocket Drug Cost Cap Will Benefit Millions in 2025

Millions of Medicare Part D beneficiaries will save money after the introduction of a $2,000 out-of-pocket (OOP) spending cap for prescription drugs, a provision that is included in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and takes effect next year, according to a recent KFF analysis.

Based on KFF’s review of drug claims data for Part D enrollees who do not qualify for the low-income subsidy (LIS), the analysis projected that, if the $2,000 cap had been in place in 2021, 1.5 million Medicare Part D beneficiaries — who spent $2,000 or more OOP on prescription drugs — would have saved money. Over the 10-year period between 2012 and 2021, a total of 5 million enrollees had OOP drug costs of $2,000 or more in at least one year.

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‘D’ Is for Dynamic: CMS Proposals Could Shake Up Medicare Drug Benefits

In two recent proposals, CMS outlines numerous changes to technical aspects of the Medicare Part D program — many of which are related to provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that restructured the Part D benefit phases. Sources tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that the proposals could have both positive and negative effects on Part D plan sponsors and beneficiaries and will likely attract a bevy of industry feedback.

The documents in question are the 2025 Advance Notice of payment changes for Medicare Advantage and Part D plans and the Draft 2025 Part D Redesign Program Instructions. While the Advance Notice is unveiled around the same time every year, the draft Part D redesign instructions are being issued to help implement provisions of the IRA that make major changes to the structure of the Part D benefit.

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Study: Medicare Advantage Members Are More Likely to Use Biosimilars

Biosimilar uptake is higher for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries than their traditional Medicare (TM) counterparts, with MA members up to 2.3 times more likely to be prescribed a biosimilar, according to new research published in JAMA Health Forum. The FDA has approved 45 biosimilars so far, with more approvals expected this year.

Researchers from CMS, the FDA and policy research firm Acumen LLC studied claims and encounter data to calculate market share for 20 biosimilars across seven product categories. Biosimilar uptake was higher for MA members in every category but bevacizumab, the generic name for Genentech’s targeted cancer therapy Avastin. Avastin currently has four biosimilars available, with a fifth approved last month.

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Study: Medicare Advantage Members Are More Likely to Use Biosimilars

Biosimilar uptake is higher for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries than their traditional Medicare (TM) counterparts, with MA members up to 2.3 times more likely to be prescribed a biosimilar, according to new research published in JAMA Health Forum. The FDA has approved 45 biosimilars so far, with more approvals expected this year.

Researchers from CMS, the FDA and policy research firm Acumen LLC studied claims and encounter data to calculate market share for 20 biosimilars across seven product categories. Biosimilar uptake was higher for MA members in every category but bevacizumab, the generic name for Genentech’s targeted cancer therapy Avastin. Avastin currently has four biosimilars available, with a fifth approved last month.

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How Will the Public Sector Manage Weight Loss Drugs After Wild Year for GLP-1s?

The approval of Eli Lilly and Co.’s Zepbound (tirzepatide) in November capped off a banner year for glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists and their use in weight loss management. And the fuss over these much-hyped obesity drugs — originally approved to treat diabetes — is likely just beginning. While employer groups and commercial payers are agonizing over the potential cost of coverage, industry leaders and legislators are pushing for Medicare to cover GLP-1s as weight loss therapies. Medicaid programs, meanwhile, are also weighing their options.

GLP-1s are now “the No. 1 driver of non-specialty pharmacy trend,” Mercer’s lead pharmacy actuary Jon Lewis told AIS’s Health Plan Weekly in November. Zepbound joins fellow GLP-1s from Novo Nordisk A/S, Wegovy (semaglutide) and Saxenda (liraglutide), in the obesity market basket. (As diabetes therapies, Zepbound is marketed as Mounjaro, while Wegovy is known as Ozempic.) Despite crackdowns on off-label use of the drugs’ diabetes iterations and a seemingly endless wave of shortages, many in the industry are clamoring for increased consumer access to the drugs. The American Medical Association on Nov. 13 passed a resolution asking “health insurers to provide coverage of available FDA-approved weight-loss medications, including GLP-1 medications, to demonstrate a commitment to the health and well-being of our patients.”

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A Closer Look at the Medicare Part D Landscape

As of 2023, about 50.5 million Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in a plan with Part D prescription drug coverage, with 44% in stand-alone Prescription Drug Plans (PDPs) and 56% in Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plans (MA-PDs), according to a KFF analysis.

The three largest Part D insurers by market share — UnitedHealth Group, CVS Health Corp. and Humana Inc. — account for 57% of enrollment in 2023. More than half of UnitedHealth’s and Humana’s Part D enrollees chose MA-PDs, while the majority of CVS Health, Centene Corp. and The Cigna Group Part D enrollees are in PDPs.

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