Data & Analytics

Radar On Market Access: New Sickle Cell Medications Offer Both Opportunities and Challenges

January 2, 2020

The first targeted therapy to treat pain crises in people with sickle cell disease presents a “welcome” new option that payers likely will embrace, a PBM head tells AIS Health. While the drug’s manufacturer cites “positive” early discussions with payers on it, some experts note the lifetime treatment — via a monthly intravenous infusion — is costly: around $100,000 annually.

The first targeted therapy to treat pain crises in people with sickle cell disease presents a “welcome” new option that payers likely will embrace, a PBM head tells AIS Health. While the drug’s manufacturer cites “positive” early discussions with payers on it, some experts note the lifetime treatment — via a monthly intravenous infusion — is costly: around $100,000 annually.

On Nov. 15, the FDA approved Novartis’ Adakveo (crizanlizumab-tmca), a treatment to fight the underlying cause and reduce the frequency of vaso-occlusive crisis, described as a common and painful complication of sickle cell disease. It is approved for patients ages 16 and older with the genetic blood disorder.

Hydroxyurea, a drug approved by the FDA in 1998, is now generic, costs about $1,000 a year, and is approved for children, the New York Times reported on Dec. 7. The two newcomers are Adakveo and Global Blood Therapeutics’ Oxbryta (voxelotor), a daily pill granted accelerated approval by the FDA 10 days after Adakveo’s approval. This led one expert to tell the news outlet that insurers likely will want to begin with hydroxyurea as the front-line therapy.

Yet Mesfin Tegenu, R.Ph., president of PerformRx, LLC, says that “options for patients with sickle cell disease have been very limited up to this point, so the approval of Adakveo is a welcome addition in the treatment of this debilitating disease.”

Eric Althoff, a Novartis spokesperson, says the company anticipates that health plans will see a value proposition with Adakveo. “Early discussions with payers are positive,” Althoff says. “In fact, a number of payers have already added Adakveo to medical policy including state Medicaid [programs].” Florida and Alabama’s Medicaid programs have agreed to cover Adakveo, Reuters reported on Dec. 20.

Radar On Market Access: Health Insurers Receive Multiple Gifts In Year-End Spending Package

December 26, 2019

For health insurers, there’s a lot to like in a spending package passed by Congress to avoid a government shutdown.

One of the two measures that make up the $1.4 trillion spending package will completely repeal the long-reviled health insurer fee (HIF) starting in 2021, which will especially help insurers in the Medicare Advantage business. The legislation also includes two provisions to that could stabilize the Affordable Care Act exchanges by thwarting any attempts to ban silver loading or auto-reenrollment, AIS Health reported.

For health insurers, there’s a lot to like in a spending package passed by Congress to avoid a government shutdown.

One of the two measures that make up the $1.4 trillion spending package will completely repeal the long-reviled health insurer fee (HIF) starting in 2021, which will especially help insurers in the Medicare Advantage business. The legislation also includes two provisions to that could stabilize the Affordable Care Act exchanges by thwarting any attempts to ban silver loading or auto-reenrollment, AIS Health reported.

And portions of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019 — including new transparency requirements for contracts between providers and health plans, and a solution to surprise medical billing that involved arbitration — neither passed on their own nor made it into the spending package.

President Donald Trump signed the spending package into law on Dec. 20 after both the House and Senate passed the legislation.

The HIF repeal, effective starting in 2021, is the most significant portion of the spending package for the managed care industry.

“This legislation is an early Christmas gift for healthcare stocks across the board,” Evercore ISI analyst Michael Newshel advised investors in a Dec. 16 research note. “We had been anticipating HIF relief for 2021 and maybe 2022 too, but permanent repeal is of course better and removes any future uncertainty about the fee’s possible return [after 2020],” he wrote.

Citi Research analyst Ralph Giacobbe added that the HIF’s repeal is “a major win for the MCOs, particularly those with significant Medicare Advantage exposure like [Humana] given the dynamics of that end market and the inability to pass through the tax.”

In the commercial insurance market, carriers have largely passed the cost of the HIF onto their members, “so eliminating it would have the impact of reducing premiums for consumers, which would be politically expedient,” Credit Suisse analyst A.J. Rice wrote in a Dec. 16 note.

Radar On Market Access: Uptake of New MA Supplemental Benefits Remains Modest in 2020, Report Says

December 24, 2019

Despite Medicare Advantage insurers’ enthusiasm for increased flexibility in allowable supplemental benefits and a slew of recent plan press releases touting goodies such as pest control and “Papa Pals” for the 2020 plan year, uptake of more “resource intensive” benefits geared toward seriously ill seniors remains relatively modest, according to a new report from the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy.

Despite Medicare Advantage insurers’ enthusiasm for increased flexibility in allowable supplemental benefits and a slew of recent plan press releases touting goodies such as pest control and “Papa Pals” for the 2020 plan year, uptake of more “resource intensive” benefits geared toward seriously ill seniors remains relatively modest, according to a new report from the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy.

The December report, “Improving Serious Illness Care in Medicare Advantage: New Regulatory Flexibility for Supplemental Benefits,” showed that a total of 507 standard MA plans in 2019 offered one of five types of benefits addressing serious illness, accounting for roughly 11% of the approximately 4,500 standard MA plans in 2019, AIS Health reported. By contrast, 377 in 2020 offered at least one of the five benefits highlighted in the report, while no plans in 2019 offered more than one of these benefits. But that drop was mainly driven by one major carrier abandoning its caregiver support benefit for 2020. Meanwhile, about 175 plans offered at least two of these types of these benefits, according to Robert Saunders, research director and one of the report’s authors.

Despite the decrease in caregiver support, which had the greatest initial uptake of the five benefit categories in 2019, researchers saw meaningful increases for 2020 in benefits such as adult day care and palliative care that “more directly address the needs of members with serious illness.”

The study also linked the PBP data to MA enrollment figures by plan and by county to assess the geographic impacts of the policy changes. For 2020, many parts of the country do not have any plans offering new supplemental benefits, and those aimed at serious care were likely to be offered in urban counties, said the report.

Barring any major disruption, 2021 will likely be the year of growth for new flexible benefits, as it takes plans a couple years to price, test and stand up ones that will have a lasting impact, adds Saunders.

Trends That Matter for Anti-VEGF Market

December 19, 2019

In October 2019, the FDA approved Beovu (brolucizumab-dbll) from Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. for the treatment of neovascular (wet) age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The intravitreal injection will compete in a fairly crowded anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) market that is led by Eylea (aflibercept) from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., AIS Health reported.

In October 2019, the FDA approved Beovu (brolucizumab-dbll) from Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. for the treatment of neovascular (wet) age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The intravitreal injection will compete in a fairly crowded anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) market that is led by Eylea (aflibercept) from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., AIS Health reported.

Novartis priced Beovu at $1,850 per vial — the same per-dose price as Eylea. Following three initial monthly doses, Beovu can be administered every eight to 12 weeks. Eylea also has three initial monthly doses and then may be administered every four, eight or 12 weeks..

For the Managed Care Biologics and Injectables Index: Q4 2018, Zitter surveyed pharmacy and therapeutics (P&T) committee members who work for 51 commercial payers with 139.8 million covered lives between Nov. 30, 2018, and Jan. 7, 2019. When asked about how they would manage Beovu and Eylea, 49% said they were more likely than unlikely or significantly likely to manage the two drugs at parity.

Thirty-five percent said they were more likely than unlikely or significantly likely to start discussions with Regeneron to prefer Eylea over Beovu. Sixteen percent said it was likely or significantly likely that they would prefer Beovu over other anti-VEGF agents besides Eylea.

The graphic below shows the current market access to age-related macular degeneration medications for all payers under the pharmacy benefit.

Radar On Market Access: Patient-Reported Outcomes Play Key Role in New Multiple Sclerosis Value-Based Contract

December 19, 2019

Under a value-based contracting agreement believed to be the first of its kind, UPMC Health Plan will receive discounts for two Biogen Inc. multiple sclerosis (MS) drugs — Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate) and Avonex (interferon beta-1a) — based on patient-reported measures of disability progression. The agreement is also based on research with a panel of key MS stakeholders who identified the most meaningful outcomes in relapsing forms of MS, AIS Health reported.

Under a value-based contracting agreement believed to be the first of its kind, UPMC Health Plan will receive discounts for two Biogen Inc. multiple sclerosis (MS) drugs — Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate) and Avonex (interferon beta-1a) — based on patient-reported measures of disability progression. The agreement is also based on research with a panel of key MS stakeholders who identified the most meaningful outcomes in relapsing forms of MS, AIS Health reported.

UPMC’s Center for Value-Based Pharmacy Initiatives led the research and developed the value-based contract.

Previous value-based contracts for MS drugs have connected payment to outcome indicators derived from claims and electronic health record data, says Rochelle Henderson, Ph.D., Express Scripts’ vice president of research and a co-author of the study report.

“This research [gives] a greater level of transparency into the outcome indicators that rank the highest in terms of value for stakeholders,” she says. “The key advantage of patient-reported outcomes is that it gets at information that can be used to evaluate the success of a medication where that information is not available by traditional means.”

Similarly, Henderson says, many outcomes that are important to payers are not available in the electronic medical record. “What we learned is that stakeholders rated ‘worsening physical disability’ and ‘functional impairment’ as the most valuable indicators for providing information about the status of MS.”

Payer interest and participation in outcomes-based contracting with manufacturers continues to grow. “Based on our research and our discussions with stakeholders in health care, there are a number of organizations on the payer side who would like to go in this direction,” says Avalere Health’s John E. Linnehan, practice director of health economics and advanced analytics.

“Payers typically are looking for outcomes-based contracting in conditions with high prevalence, high costs, or both,” Linnehan says, adding that because the MS category includes new entrants and generics, it is a focus of interest for outcomes-based contracts.

Radar On Market Access: Highmark’s New Hemophilia Initiative Aims to Improve Care, Reduce Costs

December 11, 2019

With an eye on reducing spending and improving care among members with hemophilia, Highmark Inc. will launch a comprehensive program focused on the condition on Jan. 1. The health plan will partner exclusively with three companies — Option Care Health, Inc., Soleo Health and the Hemophilia Center of Western Pennsylvania — on the initiative, which has the potential to improve member care, reduce costs and cut down on fraud, waste and abuse, AIS Health reported.

With an eye on reducing spending and improving care among members with hemophilia, Highmark Inc. will launch a comprehensive program focused on the condition on Jan. 1. The health plan will partner exclusively with three companies — Option Care Health, Inc., Soleo Health and the Hemophilia Center of Western Pennsylvania — on the initiative, which has the potential to improve member care, reduce costs and cut down on fraud, waste and abuse, AIS Health reported.

Highmark chose hemophilia to focus on for a few reasons, says Sean Burke, manager of specialty pharmacy services at the plan. “We have a pretty comparatively high population” of people with hemophilia, and “clients were coming to us” for effective management strategies. New therapies — as well as a crowded pipeline — mean there is “a big opportunity to potentially save money.”

Of Highmark’s 4.5 million members, approximately 190 have a hemophilia diagnosis, and the health plan says it spends about $80 million annually on their care, with pharmacy costs making up about 90% of that.

The partners will be able to obtain the therapies at competitive rates, in large part because they “have more volume,” says Ned Finn, director of specialty pharmacy services at the insurer.

Highmark and the providers have performance guarantees and oversight protocols in place. Plan members not only will receive better care, but members and health plan clients will see potential cost savings of “15% or so,” says Burke.

“There are a number of guarantees,” Drew Walk, Soleo’s CEO, says, that are “focused on reducing waste and overall cost of care,” as well as “improving patient outcomes.…There are clinical and financial outcomes measurements.” Hemophilia is a “unique” condition which requires “monitoring individual patient response,” he notes. The key, he maintains, is to “not be too obtrusive” in management but to “intervene when necessary and provide a good patient experience. It’s more than just dispensing the product.”

If a product experiences a shortage or goes off the market temporarily, “we have direct lines of communication with the providers” to handle the situation, says Burke. “These pharmacies are very experienced with knowing how to handle this.”