Industry Trends

Perspectives on MA Supplemental Benefits

January 23, 2020

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.

Radar on Market Access: Supreme Court to Determine States’ Ability to Regulate PBMs

January 23, 2020

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that observers say ultimately could upend state-based efforts to regulate PBMs and potentially even lead to legislation on the federal level to rein them in, AIS Health reported. The lawsuit, which was brought by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, challenges a 2015 Arkansas law that requires PBMs to reimburse pharmacies at or above their wholesale cost for generic drugs.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that observers say ultimately could upend state-based efforts to regulate PBMs and potentially even lead to legislation on the federal level to rein them in, AIS Health reported. The lawsuit, which was brought by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, challenges a 2015 Arkansas law that requires PBMs to reimburse pharmacies at or above their wholesale cost for generic drugs.

The case boils down to whether PBMs are acting as agents under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and therefore are exempt from state-level regulation, or whether they are a “non-interested party and therefore subject to regulation,” says Jeff Myers, founder of health care consulting firm OptDis. He says that he believes it’s likely the high court justices will side with PCMA and the PBM industry, agreeing that ERISA bars state laws like the one at issue in Arkansas.

“If the Supreme Court were to say states have the ability to regulate the PBM marketplace inside ERISA plans…it would give states an almost unlimited ability to force payers to pay a rate [to pharmacies] they deem sufficient,” Myers says. Independent pharmacy lobbies generally are quite powerful in states, and would demand higher rates, he says, adding that this would lead to higher drug prices overall.

If the Supreme Court rules that states can’t directly regulate PBMs, he adds, states may try to regulate them via insurers instead, and “stop attacking PBMs directly.” He says this is the more likely scenario, and something the nine justices could be keeping in mind as they consider this case.

“If the PBMs win, the precedent it sets is that states have no ability to control” them under ERISA plans, Myers says. “The only way you can do it is by going to the actual payer and saying, ‘This is a requirement for offering insurance in my state.'”

Radar on Market Access: Kansas Works Out Medicaid Expansion Deal

January 21, 2020

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) and Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning on Jan. 9 said they’d reached a compromise proposal to extend Medicaid coverage to an estimated 130,000 more low-income Kansans, AIS Health reported.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) and Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning on Jan. 9 said they’d reached a compromise proposal to extend Medicaid coverage to an estimated 130,000 more low-income Kansans, AIS Health reported.

If approved, Kansas will pursue a full expansion of Medicaid to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) with a 90/10 funding match. The state will also seek Section 1332 waiver approval to establish a reinsurance program and Section 1115 waiver approval to transition individuals whose incomes fall between 100% and 138% of the FPL from Medicaid to the exchange no later than Jan. 1, 2022, although expansion is not dependent on those waivers. If CMS denies either waiver, full Medicaid expansion will be implemented on Jan. 1, 2021, according to a summary of the pending legislation.

Kansas would be the 37th state to expand Medicaid. Ballot initiatives are pending in Missouri and Oklahoma, while voters in Nebraska and Utah have already approved expansion. The 10 remaining non-expansion states are largely concentrated in the South.

According to a summary of the pending Kansas legislation, the compromise proposal would feature a “robust work referral program,” “modest” premiums of up to $25 per month for an individual (or $100 per family) and no lockout provisions. But the expansion deal does not include work requirements.

Compared with other states that have attempted to require able-bodied expansion enrollees to seek work or other volunteer activities or risk losing their Medicaid coverage, the Kansas tactic is “a kinder, gentler approach to work,” remarks Jerry Vitti, founder and CEO of Healthcare Financial, Inc.

In a Jan. 9 research note from Evercore ISI, securities analyst Michael Newshel noted that if the approximately 130,000 additional lives that would be covered by expansion were split evenly among the state’s three contracted MCOs — which are units of Centene Corp., CVS Health Corp.-owned Aetna and UnitedHealthcare — they would each gain roughly $250 million in annual revenues.

Trends That Matter for New Multiple Sclerosis Value-Based Contract

January 16, 2020

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.”

The graphic below shows the current market access to Tecfidera and Avonex for all controllers under the pharmacy benefit.

Perspectives on UnitedHealth/Diplomat Deal

January 9, 2020

Diplomat Pharmacy, Inc., which has been in a tailspin amid mounting financial losses, agreed to a deal with UnitedHealth Group on Dec. 9 that will see the larger firm’s OptumRx division purchase the midsized specialty pharmacy provider/PBM, AIS Health reported.

Diplomat Pharmacy, Inc., which has been in a tailspin amid mounting financial losses, agreed to a deal with UnitedHealth Group on Dec. 9 that will see the larger firm’s OptumRx division purchase the midsized specialty pharmacy provider/PBM, AIS Health reported.

Diplomat’s difficulties began to come into focus earlier this year, when the firm disclosed customer losses in its PBM business and “increased competitive pressure in the specialty market.” In August, Diplomat said it was “reviewing strategic alternatives” to maximize shareholder value. Then on Dec. 9, UnitedHealth disclosed that it agreed to pay $4 per share for Diplomat’s outstanding stock and assume its debt. Equities analysts noted that Diplomat’s stock was trading at $5.81 as of market close on the Friday before the transaction was unveiled.

Adam Fein, Ph.D., CEO of Pembroke Consulting, Inc.’s Drug Channels Institute, says that “the specialty pharmacy market is reaching maturity, as PBMs and insurers dominate specialty drug dispensing channels.” Diplomat, he says, “was unable to navigate the industry’s evolution.”

“Diplomat’s sale at a bargain basement price signals that the shakeout is underway,” Fein adds. “Fewer new specialty pharmacies are starting up, the bigger companies are getting acquired, and market share is concentrating further with the biggest players.”

Ashraf Shehata, KPMG’s national sector leader for health care and life sciences, says that the purchase of Diplomat comes as the rivalry is intensifying between UnitedHealth and its two big consolidated rivals, CVS Health Corp. and Cigna Corp.

Now that those companies have completed major transactions to assemble their assets — with CVS buying health insurer Aetna and Cigna acquiring the PBM Express Scripts — “we’re kind of seeing what I call the second phase right now of the competition really heating up between the big players,” he says.

Growth continues to be the “name of the game” for those three companies, Shehata says, but it’s difficult to come by in an industry that’s already so consolidated. Because of that, “now you might see some growth on the edges” in the same vein as the UnitedHealth/Diplomat deal, he adds.

Radar On Market Access: Health Care Deals May Slow in 2020, but Government Markets Remain Hot

January 9, 2020

The pace of health care mergers and acquisitions likely will cool slightly in 2020, some industry experts tell AIS Health. Still, insurers are likely to seek out companies with assets such as care management or information technology solutions, while provider consolidation will continue in certain markets, AIS Health reported.

The pace of health care mergers and acquisitions likely will cool slightly in 2020, some industry experts tell AIS Health. Still, insurers are likely to seek out companies with assets such as care management or information technology solutions, while provider consolidation will continue in certain markets, AIS Health reported.

“We expect that payer M&A will continue into 2020, with a bias toward vertical rather than horizontal deals,” says Michael Abrams, managing partner of Numerof & Associates, Inc. “Payers will use such deals to expand into adjacent market spaces to differentiate their offerings as integrated platforms that can deliver superior value, customer experience and innovation.”

Joe Paduda, a principal with Health Strategy Associates, says he expects less M&A generally in 2020, for several reasons. “There aren’t as many assets to buy after the multiple deals done over the last few years; buyers are waiting to see results of the elections, which will drive their future strategy; and asset prices have edged even higher, making transactions more expensive and leaving less margin for error.”

Dan Mendelson, the founder of consulting firm Avalere Health, says he still sees plenty of potential targets for horizontal mergers, along with more targets for vertical deals.

“Health plans are in a transformative phase right now. There are three major areas of focus: government markets, care management, and the information technology needed to support quality improvement and cost reduction,” says Mendelson.

“In government markets, there are a range of quality assets that the larger plans could still acquire,” he adds. “There are also some non-profits that could engage in collaboration with for-profit organizations to expand their scope and reach.”

Medicare Advantage plans will be “a very strong target for M&A” in 2020, says Ashraf Shehata, KPMG’s national sector leader for health care and life sciences.

Shehata says he also expects insurers to “amass capabilities around their PBMs.” This, he says, could include bolstering their specialty pharmacy capabilities and building out technology.