PBMs/Pharmacy Benefit Managers

PBMs’ 1Q Earnings Calls Are All About Biosimilar, GLP-1 Programs

During their first-quarter earnings calls, the companies that own the three largest PBMs shared a wealth of details about how the market is responding to their new programs targeting GLP-1 and biosimilar drugs. Wall Street analysts noted that those remarks offered a welcome highlight amid decidedly mixed results in the firms’ health insurance divisions.

The Cigna Group CEO David Cordani opened his prepared remarks during the company’s May 2 earnings call by spotlighting the company’s “focus on biosimilars to drive greater affordability,” calling it one of Cigna’s key strategic growth drivers.

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High Price Tag, Accelerated Approval for New NASH Drug May Give Payers Pause

When the FDA approved Rezdiffra (resmetirom) in March, it gave patients with a serious form of liver disease a long-awaited treatment option tailored to their specific condition. But the drug’s accelerated approval and high price tag are already spurring at least one health insurer to consider options like restrictive coverage criteria and value-based contracting.

NASH represents a progression from a more common condition, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). It occurs when patients start developing liver inflammation that can eventually lead to liver scarring, dysfunction, and even liver failure and cancer.

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AMCP Panel Details Barriers to Broad Biosimilar Adoption

For biosimilar use to truly take flight, health plans need to focus on easing switches between original products and reference products — and policymakers should consider expanding interchangeability, according to expert presenters at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP) annual conference in New Orleans.

There is a lot of "promise" and "optimism" around biosimilars, said Cate Lockhart, Pharm.D., Ph.D., executive director of the Biologics and Biosimilars Collective Intelligence Consortium, during an April 17 panel at the AMCP conference, but there is more that could be done to increase systemic savings and improve patient access.

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PBM Moves Spur Humira Biosimilar Uptake but Raise Questions

The FDA has approved 10 biosimilars of AbbVie Inc.’s Humira (adalimumab), with nine of them launching in the U.S. since last year, but uptake of them has been relatively slow. Recently, though, a formulary change by CVS Health Corp. seems to have spurred uptake of the agents, and an upcoming change by The Cigna Group should increase their use again. However, some industry experts question whether those changes were made with an eye on increasing biosimilar access — or boosting their own profits.

On April 25, Evernorth Health Services, a subsidiary of Cigna, revealed that it will have a high- and low-concentration interchangeable Humira biosimilar for zero out-of-pocket costs for “eligible patients” of its specialty pharmacy, Accredo, starting in June. The product, according to a press release, “will be produced for Evernorth’s affiliate private label pharmaceutical distributor, Quallent Pharmaceuticals, through agreements with multiple manufacturers.”

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Analysis Tallies Premium Impact of Provider Markups on Specialty Drugs

If providers charged the same price as specialty pharmacies for specialty medications, $13.1 billion in spending on health insurance premiums and premium equivalents could have been avoided in 2024, according to a new analysis from the consulting firm Oliver Wyman, commissioned by AHIP.

Provider-administered drugs can be delivered directly to clinicians from specialty pharmacies — known as white bagging — or providers can purchase the drugs directly and store the drugs until they are needed for patient care, which is called “buy and bill.” When the “buy and bill” method is utilized, the providers can charge a markup for the drug that is passed through to the patient’s bill.

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News Briefs: CarelonRx Launches New Specialty Offering

CarelonRx, the PBM arm of Elevance Health, Inc., has a new “comprehensive approach to specialty medication savings across pharmacy and medical benefits,” according to an April 22 press release. The new product will use “advanced analytics” to “identify members whose health is at the greatest risk,” which will prompt “a thorough review of a member’s clinical diagnoses, medications, whole-health integrated support, and a review of their site of care options.” At that point, identified members will receive “proactive pharmacist-led outreach to address any barriers to care, and to further coordinate integrated care with their whole health team, including medical and behavioral health professionals.” Elevance recently announced a pending deal to acquire Kroger Inc.’s specialty pharmacy division as it grows its Carelon health services division.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on April 24 that he has launched an investigation into the “outrageously high prices” that Novo Nordisk is charging for its popular treatments for weight loss and Type 2 diabetes, Wegovy and Ozempic. In a letter to the Danish drugmaker’s CEO, Sanders — who chairs the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — noted that the list prices for Wegovy and Ozempic ($1,349 and $969 per month, respectively) are far higher than what the drugs can be purchased for in countries like Canada and Germany. In his letter, Sanders requested information about how Novo Nordisk determined the prices for Ozempic and Wegovy, what it spent on research and development, and more.

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Analysis Tallies Premium Impact of Provider Markups on Specialty Drugs

If providers charged the same price as specialty pharmacies for specialty medications, $13.1 billion in spending on health insurance premiums and premium equivalents could have been avoided in 2024, according to a new analysis from the consulting firm Oliver Wyman, commissioned by AHIP.

Provider-administered drugs can be delivered directly to clinicians from specialty pharmacies — known as white bagging — or providers can purchase the drugs directly and store the drugs until they are needed for patient care, which is called “buy and bill.” When the “buy and bill” method is utilized, the providers can charge a markup for the drug that is passed through to the patient’s bill.

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AMCP Panel, GAO Report Sharpen Focus on State PBM Regulation

Although PBM-targeted legislation has stalled at the federal level, states are forging ahead in their efforts to rein in the highly scrutinized industry. In fact, the volume of state measures aimed at PBMs recently led the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to publish a review that zeroed in on five states that have taken a variety of approaches. Meanwhile, speakers at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP) annual meeting told attendees about pending measures in states like California that industry stakeholders should be closely watching.

“We talk about states as the laboratories of democracy a lot,” Adam Colborn, director of government affairs at AMCP, said during an April 17 session at the conference, which was held in New Orleans. “There are a lot of experiments; I don’t know that they’re all successful experiments, but a lot of policies — particularly in the health care space — that are first enacted at the state level are then later implemented at the federal level.”

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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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