PBMs/Pharmacy Benefit Managers

News Briefs: Centene Reaches 11th Settlement Over PBM Practices

Centene Corp. agreed to pay Washington $19 million to resolve allegations that it overcharged the state’s Medicaid program for pharmacy benefit management services. As part of the resolution, Centene will pay an additional $13 million to the federal government “for administration of Medicaid in Washington state,” according to a press release from Washington’s attorney general. The agreement with Washington is Centene’s 11th such settlement with a state regarding how its PBM subsidiary Envolve administered pharmacy benefits in Medicaid.

The public will likely need annual COVID-19 vaccinations in the future, similar to how the flu is treated, White House officials said during a recent press briefing. “It is becoming increasingly clear that, looking forward with the COVID-19 pandemic, in the absence of a dramatically different variant, we likely are moving towards a path with a vaccination cadence similar to that of the annual influenza vaccine, with annual, updated COVID-19 shots matched to the currently circulating strains for most of the population,” said Anthony Fauci, M.D., the president’s chief medical adviser. Ashish Jha, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said the U.S. is able to pursue this strategy because it now has vaccines available that match the dominant strain circulating — a first since the pandemic started. However, some “vulnerable groups” might continue to need more frequent vaccination against COVID-19, Fauci said on Aug. 6.

Johnson & Johnson Files Lawsuit Against Copay Maximizer Company SaveOnSP

Multiple companies that provide alternate funding options for patients have been launching over the last several years. But one maximizer company has found itself the target of a legal battle with manufacturer Johnson & Johnson over its strategy to reclassify drugs and maximize the copay assistance it gets from pharma manufacturers.

Copay maximizers have companies classify some drugs as “non-essential health benefits” (NEHBs) as outlined in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They then secure patient assistance for these drugs through manufacturers’ or charitable foundations’ patient assistance programs, taking the full annual amount of assistance per drug and spreading out that money over the course of the year (see story). The programs are seen as follow-on offerings to copay accumulators, which take the maximum assistance up front and deplete the contribution before the end of the year.

Embedded ACO Pharmacists Produce Savings for BCBS of Rhode Island

While an unprecedented number of Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans earned a 5-star rating for 2022 largely because of flexibilities granted during the COVID-19 public health emergency, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI) credits a performance-based pharmacist intervention model with dramatically improving its drug-related scores and contributing to a 5-star summary rating for both of its contracts.

For 2022, CMS allowed plans to use the better of the two years’ rating (2021 or 2022) for most measures because all contracts qualified for the “extreme and uncontrollable circumstances policy.” Plans will not have that flexibility for the 2023 star ratings due out this fall.

Copay Maximizer Programs Are Coming Under Fire

Multiple companies are offering copay maximizer — also known as variable copay — programs. And while they may be attractive to firms that implement them, a closer look might reveal them to be not as appealing as they seem at first blush, say industry experts. The programs also are being challenged in legal settings, including a lawsuit by manufacturer Johnson & Johnson against SaveOnSP (see story).

Traditionally, when a manufacturer provides copay assistance for one of its drugs, that dollar amount would count toward the patient’s deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. But copay maximizer programs will distribute 100% of available manufacturer copay offset funds over 12 months, as opposed to copay accumulators, which apply the maximum manufacturer assistance up front and deplete that contribution before the end of the year. Payments in both approaches do not count toward members’ deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums.

Industry Experts Question Alternative Funding Companies That Carve Out Some Specialty Drugs, ‘Abuse’ Charities

As companies are exploring different strategies to keep their pharmaceutical costs in check, a spate of so-called alternate funding companies has emerged in the industry. And while they might appeal to a potential client at first glance, some — such as ones that carve out certain specialty drugs and seek coverage from patient assistance funds — may not be worth the investment, say some industry sources, who encourage companies to take a closer look at what their savings actually are.

During a July 29 webinar titled Specialty Drugs Update: Trends, Controversies, and Outlook, longtime industry expert Adam J. Fein, Ph.D., CEO of Drug Channels Institute, noted that while the use of copay accumulators and maximizers has risen, “there is another newer trend that’s even scarier, and that’s the business of what some people call specialty carve-outs,” he said, calling this “the shady business of specialty carve-outs.” Vendors such as ImpaxRX, Payd Health, SHARx, PayerMatrix and Script Sourcing get payers to exclude specialty drugs and then get those drugs covered via patient-assistance programs at manufacturers or charitable foundations. If patients are denied patient assistance, coverage reverts to the company’s payer/PBM/specialty pharmacy.

Employers Shift More Drug Cost Control Efforts From PBMs to Medical Plans

In 2021, prescription drugs accounted for a median of 21% of large employers’ health care costs, and a full 100% of firms said they were concerned about prescription drug spending trends, according to the Business Group on Health’s 2023 Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey.

Yet the rising cost of specialty medications — which are often covered by medical rather than pharmacy benefits — has forced companies to think differently about how to curtail drug spending, the organization found. According to the survey, specialty medications account for 56% of all pharmacy spending by polled employers.

BCBSRI Achieved Savings, 5-Star Rating With Help of Embedded ACO Pharmacists

While an unprecedented number of Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans earned a 5-star rating for 2022 largely because of flexibilities granted during the COVID-19 public health emergency, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI) credits a performance-based pharmacist intervention model with dramatically improving its drug-related scores and contributing to a 5-star summary rating for both of its contracts.

For 2022, CMS allowed plans to use the better of the two years’ rating (2021 or 2022) for most measures because all contracts qualified for the “extreme and uncontrollable circumstances policy.” Plans will not have that flexibility for the 2023 star ratings due out this fall.

Medi-Cal Awards Diss Centene With Reduced Service Area

As part of a Medicaid managed care revamp and its first statewide competitive procurement for the Medi-Cal program, the California Dept. of Health Care Services (DHCS) on Aug. 25 named the three insurers that will serve as commercial managed care plans (MCPs) in 2024. Elevance Health’s Anthem Blue Cross Partnership Plan, Centene Corp.’s Health Net and Molina Health Care were selected to participate in varying service areas across 21 counties. Health Net’s loss of three counties, however, spooked investors as Centene already faces declining Medicaid enrollment and continues to settle allegations of mishandling Medicaid pharmacy benefits in multiple states, the latest being Washington.

Employers Shift More Drug Cost Control Efforts From PBMs to Medical Plans

In 2021, prescription drugs accounted for a median of 21% of large employers’ health care costs, and a full 100% of firms said they were concerned about prescription drug spending trends, according to the Business Group on Health’s 2023 Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey.

Yet the rising cost of specialty medications — which are often covered by medical rather than pharmacy benefits — has forced companies to think differently about how to curtail drug spending, the organization found. According to the survey, specialty medications account for 56% of all pharmacy spending by polled employers.

Copay Maximizers Face Criticism as J&J Files Legal Challenge

Multiple companies have been launching over the last several years that provide alternate funding options for patients. But one maximizer company has found itself the target of a legal battle with manufacturer Johnson & Johnson over its strategy to reclassify drugs and maximize the copay assistance it gets from pharma manufacturers.

Traditionally, when a manufacturer provides copay assistance for one of its drugs, that dollar amount would count toward the patient’s deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. But copay maximizer programs will distribute 100% of available manufacturer copay offset funds over 12 months, as opposed to copay accumulators, which apply the maximum manufacturer assistance up front and deplete that contribution before the end of the year. Payments in both approaches do not count toward members’ deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums.