Policy & Politics

Studies: Telehealth Ups Low-Income Members’ Care Access

Several new studies have found that telehealth flexibilities introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic increased access to care for patients who would otherwise struggle to get it. However, the same researchers say that telehealth can’t solve health care disparities on its own — and that lots of work needs to be done to make sure that the incremental improvements made possible by improved telehealth access are durable.

A study published in the May edition of the journal Health Affairs by researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that Medicare patients “living in the most deprived neighborhoods had the highest rates of telemedicine use….Overall, our findings are encouraging, as they suggest that the Medicare telemedicine coverage waiver could improve access to health care for people in the most disadvantaged US neighborhoods without worsening disparities.”


North Carolina Sets Sights on Medicaid Expansion

Republican leaders in North Carolina, one of a dozen states that have yet to broaden access to Medicaid programs, say that they are now ready to embrace expansion, which may be a boon to its managed care organizations.

By widening Medicaid eligibility to limits allowed under the Affordable Care Act, North Carolina would enroll an additional 600,000 individuals, a sharp increase over the 2.7 million currently covered under Medicaid in the state, according to a summary of a draft bill first reported on by Axios.

In a May 25 press conference, state Senate leader Phil Berger called Medicaid expansion “the right thing for us to do,” citing the need for coverage for low-income individuals and families and the federal government’s responsibility to pick up 90% of costs for enrollees newly eligible under the expanded coverage guidelines, according to reports.


Biden Administration Has Options for Drug Pricing Reform

Democratic lawmakers are discussing a plan that would allow CMS to negotiate the price of certain medications and place a cap on Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket spending, an effort they hope could lead to the resuscitation of the drug pricing controls contained in the Build Back Better Act (BBBA). While those talks are far from a sure thing to pass, the Biden administration could institute policies to combat high drug prices that do not need congressional approval, according to health policy experts who participated in a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) webinar on May 23.

Rachel Sachs, an attorney and professor at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis who spoke during the webinar, said the administration could particularly make an impact in federal insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. One way could be via the approval of certain Section 1115 Medicaid waivers that states request. For instance, in Oregon’s Section 1115 renewal application in February, the state asked CMS for permission to exclude from its Medicaid formulary drugs approved under the FDA’s accelerated approval program that have “limited or inadequate evidence of clinical efficacy.”


Court Decision on Accumulator Rule Could Encourage State Bans

Under a May 17 court decision striking down a CMS final rule slated to take effect in 2023, pharmaceutical manufacturers will not have to ensure that financial assistance provided to patients goes only to patients and not to payers under their copay accumulator and maximizer programs. However, the renewed attention to these programs could spur more states to take action of their own against them, industry experts tell AIS Health.

The Accumulator Rule (CMS-2482-F), published Dec. 31, 2020, could have resulted in patients facing increased out-of-pocket drug costs and pharma companies being held responsible for ensuring they know exactly where their assistance is going, industry experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT.


$35 Monthly Insulin Cap Could Save Part D Enrollees 29% Per Prescription

The House in March passed a bill that caps the out-of-pocket cost of insulin at $35 per month for Medicare Part D beneficiaries and for certain privately insured enrollees. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found that total out-of-pocket spending by Part D enrollees on insulin quadrupled between 2007 and 2019, reaching nearly $1 billion. If a $35 copay cap had been in place in 2019, Part D enrollees without low-income subsidies would have saved $14 per insulin prescription on average. Meanwhile, another study found that over one in four individual and small group enrollees paid more than an average of $35 per month out of pocket for insulin products in 2018. With a $35 cap, median monthly savings could reach $27 in the individual market and $19 in the small and large group markets.


PHE Unwinding Delay Gives States, MCOs Time to Ease Transitions

With radio silence from HHS on May 16 — when states at the very latest had expected to hear whether the COVID-19 public health emergency would end in July — HHS at press time appeared to be gearing up for another extension of the PHE. This will give states, insurers and other stakeholders more time to prepare for the inevitable resumption of Medicaid eligibility redeterminations, which could cause millions of adults and children to lose health insurance coverage.

The PHE has been extended multiple times since the start of the pandemic and remains a moving target. As a condition of receiving enhanced federal funds during the PHE, states have been required to ensure continuous Medicaid and CHIP coverage for most enrollees by pausing eligibility redeterminations. And the Biden administration has promised to provide states 60 days’ notice before any possible termination or expiration. But without such notification, sources estimate the next end date could be Oct. 13. Bloomberg on May 16 reported that the PHE would be extended past mid-July, “according to a person familiar with the matter.”


Medicaid Plans Get Ready for Yearlong Postpartum Care

State Medicaid programs now have the option of applying to CMS to expand postpartum coverage for parents who have just given birth to 12 months, up from the default 60 days of coverage. Medicaid MCOs in states that have opted into the expanded coverage tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that they are taking steps to get ready for the new coverage and anticipate better outcomes for both new parents and new children as a result of the program.

Maternal mortality rates in the United States are disturbingly high compared to other developed countries — in 2018, 17 women per 100,000 live births died, compared to three in the Netherlands, Norway and New Zealand, per the Commonwealth Fund — and the U.S. is the only developed country to see that rate increase in recent years. Most of those deaths were preventable.


Drug Price Controls Appear Central to Democratic Priorities

Democratic lawmakers are expected to make a strong push to revive a variety of drug pricing proposals, such as those that would grant CMS the ability to negotiate the price of certain drugs and place a cap on Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket spending.

House Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has indicated he is targeting the current congressional work period that runs through Memorial Day as the time to make good on drug pricing plans that Democrats have long favored, noted Matt Kazan, managing director of policy with consultancy Avalere Health, during an April 27 webinar.

The convergence of several factors, including looming mid-term elections and the scheduled end of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) could spur Democrats to make a last-ditch effort to resuscitate the Build Back Better Act (BBBA) and the drug pricing controls contained within it — especially since the end of the PHE could significantly impact Medicaid and Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange enrollment.


States Pass More PBM Laws, Including Copay Accumulator Bans

PBMs have drawn more attention than ever from state officials responding to the steep cost of prescription drugs. As federal efforts to manage the rising cost of medications have stalled, state lawmakers across the country have considered hundreds of bills that affect PBMs, ranging from prescription drug affordability boards to banning copay accumulators.

The National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP), a think tank and policy group, identified 118 bills introduced to state legislatures across the country that would change PBM regulations during 2022 sessions. In addition, NASHP found state legislators nationwide have introduced 44 bills that would reform drug coupons, including bans on copay accumulators and maximizers. That follows more than 100 laws passed since 2017 by state legislatures, according to a June 2021 NASHP blog post.


News Briefs: Express Scripts Wins Anthem Lawsuit

The long-running lawsuit between Anthem, Inc. and Express Scripts — over whether the PBM now owned by Cigna Corp. overcharged Anthem for prescription drugs — has finally concluded. Anthem first sued Express Scripts in 2016, alleging primarily that the PBM failed to honor its contractual agreement to provide “competitive benchmark pricing” for prescription drugs and thus owed the insurer $14.8 billion in damages. Ultimately, Judge Edgardo Ramos dismissed most of Anthem’s claims, finding that the companies’ contract did not “obligate Express Scripts to provide competitive benchmark pricing, but merely to negotiate in good faith in the event that Anthem’s market analysis shows non-competitive pricing.”