Policy & Politics

Plans Are Likely to Treat Paxlovid Like Other Drugs if U.S. Isn’t Paying

With COVID-19 infections surging once again, the Biden administration has stepped up efforts to increase the supply of Paxlovid, the Pfizer Inc. antiviral that garnered emergency use authorization as a therapeutic treatment for the coronavirus. However, increased availability for Paxlovid might end in coming months — Congress has stalled on providing the increased COVID-19 response funding that the administration requested, and experts say health plans are likely to treat the drug like any other if the federal government isn’t picking up the tab for treatments.

The Biden administration has pushed in recent weeks to increase the availability of Paxlovid, free of charge, to COVID-19 patients. On May 26, the White House released a statement touting the rollout of more than 2,500 “test-to-treat” sites where free testing and Paxlovid courses are available, along with 40,000 locations where antivirals are available for patients. The administration also noted that it had “increased the number of people benefiting from oral antivirals in the last seven weeks, from about 27,000 prescriptions filled each week to more than 182,000 last week.”

How Will Interstate Telehealth Licensure Waivers’ Expiration Impact Medicare Beneficiaries?

During the pandemic, all 50 states and Washington, D.C., issued licensure waivers that allowed out-of-state clinicians to perform telehealth with patients across state lines. By analyzing telehealth usage by Medicare beneficiaries from 2017 to 2020, researchers found that out-of-state telehealth made up only a small percentage of all outpatient visits during the first year of the pandemic, though the percentage varied by state, according to a recent study published in Health Affairs.

The number of out-of-state telehealth services jumped from 17,286 in the first quarter to 171,754 in the second quarter of 2020, and then slightly declined. Before 2020, less than 1% of out-of-state new patient visits occurred via telehealth nationwide, while in 2020, the number jumped to 6%.

0 Comments

News Briefs: California fines Anthem

The Supreme Court ruled that HHS incorrectly altered the 340B drug program, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh finding that “absent a survey of hospitals’ acquisition costs, HHS may not vary the reimbursement rates only for 340B hospitals; HHS’ 2018 and 2019 reimbursement rates for 340B hospitals were therefore unlawful.” Kavanaugh’s opinion found in favor of the American Hospital Association, which brought a suit against HHS over the changes. “When the original [changes] went into effect in 2018, CMS cut Medicare 340B reimbursements by ~30% for most outpatient drugs, leading to ~$1.6B in savings for the first year,” wrote Citi analyst Jason Cassorla in a note to investors. HHS may have to make retroactive payments to hospitals to make up for the savings, Cassorla noted.

0 Comments

New State Regs, Lawsuit Increase Heat on Health Care Sharing Ministries

Scrutiny of health care sharing ministries (HCSMs) is growing, with Colorado becoming the second state to require the entities to submit health care financial data to insurance departments amid stepped-up scrutiny from regulators nationwide. Meanwhile, a Florida health system filed a lawsuit challenging the common practice among HCSMs of pushing members to conceal their sharing ministry enrollment when dealing with providers’ billing departments, which Orlando Health contends is an effort to “illegitimately secure the reduced ‘charity rate.’”

HCSM supporters contend that the religious organization-affiliated ministries provide a less expensive alternative to health insurance for members who agree to comply with faith-based lifestyle restrictions and pledge to “share” medical costs among members. But critics say the programs provide no guarantees of coverage and are exempt from much insurance oversight, while still being marketed in many cases by brokers with terminology such as provider networks and benefit design names that mimic traditional insurance.

0 Comments

South Dakota Seems Poised to Expand Medicaid

South Dakota voters just moved their state one step closer to expanding Medicaid through a ballot initiative, with over 67% of voters rejecting a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have made Medicaid expansion prohibitively difficult to pass. The founder of a pro-expansion ballot initiative campaign tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that he’s optimistic about Medicaid expansion’s chances when it finally comes to a definitive vote in November.

If South Dakota does vote to expand Medicaid in the fall, more than 27,000 people could gain eligibility for the safety-net health insurance program, according to estimates from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

0 Comments

FTC to Investigate PBM Business Practices, Consolidation

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said on June 7 that it will investigate the business practices and consolidation of PBMs, following months of pressure from health care stakeholders.

The FTC’s investigation, which is just the latest escalation in a nationwide regulatory push to clamp down on PBMs’ most controversial methods, was praised by plan sponsors and pharmaceutical groups.

The FTC’s leadership, a panel of five commissioners, voted unanimously to launch the investigation under section 6(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914. The commissioners are a mix of two Democrats and two Republicans, with the fifth seat filled by the party that holds the White House.

Trustees Report Underscores Need for Wholesale Medicare Reform

While the headline takeaway from the latest Medicare Trustees report was that the Hospital Insurance (HI) trust fund will be exhausted two years later than previously projected, industry experts suggest that the report should light a fire under Congress to take swift legislative action to sustain Medicare financing. During a recent webinar hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a panel of seasoned policy experts agreed that the report underscored the need for comprehensive structural reform to the Medicare program, including potential changes to the way Medicare Advantage plans are paid.

Published on June 2, the Medicare Board of Trustees’ annual report provides previous and projected costs for the Medicare program’s two separate trust funds: the Hospital Insurance trust fund (HI), which helps pay for inpatient hospital and other services covered by Medicare Part A; and the Supplemental Medicare Insurance trust fund (SMI), which helps pay for physician, outpatient hospital, home health and other services covered by Parts B and D.

FTC Files Lawsuits to Block Hospital Deals in N.J. and Utah

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on June 2 said it had filed lawsuits to block hospital mergers in New Jersey and Utah. Health policy experts tell AIS Health that health insurers and other payers likely will welcome the FTC’s actions as mergers limit competition and lead to higher prices.

The FTC is looking to block HCA Healthcare, Inc.’s acquisition of five hospitals that Steward Health Care owns in Utah. The agency is also aiming to deny RWJBarnabas Health’s purchase of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, a non-profit that operates a hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. The Utah trial is scheduled to begin on Dec. 13 and the New Jersey trial is scheduled to start on Nov. 29.

0 Comments

FTC to Investigate PBM Business Practices, Consolidation

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said on Tuesday that it will investigate the business practices and consolidation of PBMs, following months of pressure from health care stakeholders. The FTC’s investigation, which is just the latest escalation in a nationwide regulatory push to clamp down on PBMs’ most controversial methods, was praised by plan sponsors and pharmaceutical groups.

The FTC’s leadership, a panel of five commissioners, voted unanimously to launch the investigation under section 6(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914. The commissioners are a mix of two Democrats and two Republicans, with the fifth seat filled by the party that holds the White House. The unanimous vote is a reversal for the two Republican panelists appointed by former President Donald Trump. The Republican commissioners voted against a similar inquiry in February, deadlocking with the two Democratic commissioners — the swing seat on the panel was unfilled at the time. That fifth commissioner, Democrat Alvaro Martin Bedoya, was confirmed by the Senate in May on a party-line vote.

With Elections Coming, Chances for Telehealth Reform Dwindle

Despite a pressing need to revise telehealth laws to match the new, post-pandemic expectations of patients, payers and providers, D.C. insiders tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that Congress may not actually pass legislation on the issue. With Congress preoccupied by the midterm elections and the possible revival of the Biden administration’s signature Build Back Better Act (BBBA), chances for standalone legislation on telehealth are slipping away.

That doesn’t mean that Congress won’t address telehealth regulations. But telehealth reforms will likely have to pass as part of a larger piece of legislation. That’s how the No Surprises Act, which banned surprise billing, finally made its way through Congress.

0 Comments