Perspectives

Perspectives on Dual Eligible SNPs

December 26, 2019

Through strategic acquisitions, product launches and geographic expansions, Medicare Advantage insurers across the U.S. are offering new Special Needs Plans (SNPs) aimed at improving the lives of members who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, AIS Health reported.

Through strategic acquisitions, product launches and geographic expansions, Medicare Advantage insurers across the U.S. are offering new Special Needs Plans (SNPs) aimed at improving the lives of members who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, AIS Health reported.

According to an analysis of the 2020 “landscape” files posted by CMS in September, Chicago health care consultancy Clear View Solutions, LLC, estimates that there are 171 net new SNP IDs, up from 60 net new plans in 2019. And 97 of those net new plans are dual eligible SNPs, compared with 47 D-SNPs that were introduced for 2019.

“I do think there is some ‘pent up energy’ from plans, and now that there is clarity with permanency and the requirements for integration, plans are ready to move forward,” Cheryl Phillips, M.D., CEO of the SNP Alliance, says in an email to AIS Health.

Phillips says plans may also be “working to better position themselves” for managed long-term services and supports, as states sharpen their focus on rebalancing their long-term care populations and shift more of the responsibility to managed care organizations.

A review of the new D-SNP offerings for 2020 indicates that larger players such as Anthem, Inc., Centene Corp., Humana Inc., Molina Healthcare, Inc. and UnitedHealthcare are leading the charge, but numerous plans have been introduced on a local level.

For instance, UCare, the largest provider of SNPs in Minnesota, said it is expanding its UCare Connect + Medicare plans to mirror the 62-county UCare Connect service area. And Priority Health is preparing to launch its first D-SNP, which will serve all 68 counties of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

Perspectives on Preferred Cost-Sharing Pharmacy Networks

December 12, 2019

In the Medicare Part D market in 2020, preferred cost-sharing pharmacy networks continue to be king. But because independent pharmacies often find themselves shut out of such arrangements, recently introduced legislation is seeking to change that dynamic.

In the Medicare Part D market in 2020, preferred cost-sharing pharmacy networks continue to be king. But because independent pharmacies often find themselves shut out of such arrangements, recently introduced legislation is seeking to change that dynamic.

“The Part D plans have fully adopted preferred networks over the last few years,” Adam Fein, Ph.D., president of Pembroke Consulting, Inc., and CEO of Drug Channels Institute, tells AIS Health. “The [retail] chains obviously have some different strategies but are looking for the foot traffic” that comes from offering lower cost sharing as part of a preferred network.

Meanwhile, many independent pharmacies and the pharmacy services administrative organizations (PSAOs) that represent them in negotiations with health plans are moving away from preferred Part D networks.

Fein says they “have concluded that the incremental traffic they’re going to get is not worth the profit they’re going to sacrifice.”

Ultimately, “I think the open question is, will this create access problems to preferred networks, and does CMS care?” he says.

The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) isn’t counting on regulatory intervention. The organization is supporting a bill — introduced last month by U.S. Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) — which would allow any pharmacy located in an underserved area to participate in a Part D preferred network as long as that pharmacy accepts the terms and conditions.

“We’re not asking for different terms and conditions, [or] higher reimbursement; we’re just asking to be able to see what the terms and conditions are to be in the preferred network and then make our best decision if we want to participate or not,” says Ronna Hauser, the president of policy and government affairs operations at NCPA.

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association opposes the bill.

“The proposed any willing pharmacy provisions threaten the effectiveness of selective contracting with pharmacies as a tool for lowering costs,” says as statement from the PBM trade group.

Perspectives on Racial Bias in Optum Risk-Prediction Algorithm

November 28, 2019

To improve care for patients with the most complex health needs, many providers and payers turn to risk-prediction tools that use an algorithm to determine which patients need more intense care management. But a recent study, published in the journal Science, found that one such widely used algorithm exhibits significant racial bias by assigning black patients the same level of risk as white patients even when they are far sicker, AIS Health reported.

To improve care for patients with the most complex health needs, many providers and payers turn to risk-prediction tools that use an algorithm to determine which patients need more intense care management. But a recent study, published in the journal Science, found that one such widely used algorithm exhibits significant racial bias by assigning black patients the same level of risk as white patients even when they are far sicker, AIS Health reported.

This study garnered significant media attention, and at least one state’s regulators launched an investigation into UnitedHealth Group, whose Optum subsidiary sells Impact Pro, the data analytics program that researchers studied.

Brian Powers, M.D., one of the study’s authors and a researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says that “the algorithm did a great job of what it was specifically designed to do, which was predict future health care costs.” The problem is that the organizations deploying the tool often “use health care costs as a proxy for health care need,” he says, and black patients tend to cost the health system less because of a “lack of access to care due to structural inequalities, and a variety of other issues that have been well documented.” So while there is a correlation between high-risk patients and high health care spending, just looking at expenditures doesn’t paint a truly accurate picture of patients’ health care needs.

Rich Caruana, a Microsoft Corp. senior researcher who studies machine learning in health care, says he was “not at all surprised” to learn that researchers uncovered hidden bias in a predictive algorithm.

“Most of what machine learning is doing is right, but in addition to these things it’s doing really right, roughly 5% of what it’s learning are these sort of silly, wrong things,” he continues. “These are known as treatment effects — we’re seeing patients’ risk as more or less based on the treatment that they receive.”

Perspectives on How Drug Pricing Legislation Impacts Innovation

November 14, 2019

Many innovative new therapies are coming onto the market, but they also are launching with increasingly higher price tags, even as lawmakers and regulators launch a flurry of activity aimed at bringing down drug prices. Some industry experts caution that a few of the bills, if passed, could endanger the research and development efforts around these novel drugs, while others question that hypothesis, AIS Health reported.

Many innovative new therapies are coming onto the market, but they also are launching with increasingly higher price tags, even as lawmakers and regulators launch a flurry of activity aimed at bringing down drug prices. Some industry experts caution that a few of the bills, if passed, could endanger the research and development efforts around these novel drugs, while others question that hypothesis, AIS Health reported.

One of the proposals is the International Pricing Index, an effort by HHS to bring payments for Medicare Part B closer to what 16 other “developed economies” pay for these drugs. The Senate’s Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 proposes multiple changes to Medicare Part B and Part D, as well as Medicaid. And the House’s Lower Drug Costs Now Act proposes, among other things, requiring HHS to negotiate the prices of up to 250 drugs in Medicare without competitors. Companies not coming to an agreement would be subject to financial penalties.

Drugmakers have vociferously pushed back on many of the proposals, with one of the arguments against them being that the efforts would have a chilling effect on pharma R&D.

“Empirical evidence” exists to support the idea that “lower spending on pharmaceuticals will lead to lower R&D spending and lower yield of innovative drugs,” says Elan Rubinstein, Pharm.D., principal at EB Rubinstein Associates. But “there isn’t enough evidence either way” to say whether “there aren’t policies besides spending that can impact innovation.”

“Additional patent protections and favorable tax treatment of R&D expenditures for drugs designated to treat ‘orphan’ indications appear have resulted in a large push among manufacturers and investors to bring those products to market,” he notes.

According to Lisa Kennedy, Ph.D., chief economist and managing principal at Innopiphany LLC, “the biopharmaceutical industry is responsible for approximately 70% of all innovation within health care. Price fixing of pharmaceuticals has been shown in several studies to have a knock-on effect on innovation.”

She also asserts that oncology, one of the most productive and exciting areas of innovation in the biopharmaceutical industry, could be hit particularly hard.

Perspectives on Pelosi Drug Pricing Legislation

October 31, 2019

Although there is bipartisan support for drug pricing reform and recent bills introduced in the House and the Senate share some concepts, conservatives and pharmaceutical manufacturers have found plenty to dislike about the drug pricing legislation unveiled in September by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), AIS Health reported.

Although there is bipartisan support for drug pricing reform and recent bills introduced in the House and the Senate share some concepts, conservatives and pharmaceutical manufacturers have found plenty to dislike about the drug pricing legislation unveiled in September by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), AIS Health reported.

In addition to restructuring the Part D benefit to include an out-of-pocket cap, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3) would allow the HHS secretary to negotiate drug prices for at least 250 drugs where there is no effective competition. Manufacturers would be subject to certain transparency requirements and a “noncompliance fee.” Moreover, the bill would require that the negotiated price should be no more than 1.2 times the weighted average of the price in six other countries.

Speaking at AHIP’s 2019 National Conference on Medicare, held Sept. 23-24 in Washington, D.C., American Action Forum President Douglas Holtz-Eakin called H.R. 3 a “terrible bill” and said the structure of an upper limit and a noncompliance penalty is not negotiation but is “price fixing and extortion.” He also argued that its proposed inflation rebate would only incentivize manufacturers to create high launch prices.

Also speaking at the conference, PhRMA Senior Vice President for Policy and Research Jennifer Bryant said that while Pelosi’s bill is being presented as a “benign and fairly incremental approach,” the proposed structure is “not actually one of negotiation at all and is about tying prices in the U.S. to prices internationally.” Moreover, she challenged AHIP, which released a statement in support of the Pelosi bill, to make a case for an “alternative that reduces costs through competition.”

Perspectives on New Solutions to Finance High-Cost Treatments

October 17, 2019

With concerns mounting about how health plan sponsors will pay for breakthrough treatments with ultra-high price tags, some major insurers are offering up new solutions aimed at easing that burden, AIS Health reported.

With concerns mounting about how health plan sponsors will pay for breakthrough treatments with ultra-high price tags, some major insurers are offering up new solutions aimed at easing that burden, AIS Health reported.

Cigna Corp. “appears at the forefront” of initiatives to cope with super-high-cost drugs, as Citi analyst Ralph Giacobbe puts it, given that the firm recently introduced a new solution that would help clients pay for and manage two gene therapies: Luxturna and Zolgensma.

Members whose plan sponsors pay a per-member per-month fee for Cigna’s new solution — called Embarc Benefit Protection — will pay nothing out of pocket for Zolgensma or Luxturna if they meet the clinical qualifications to be treated with one of those therapies.

Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy for the National Business Group on Health, says that “employers are looking for solutions like that from their health plan partners and the PBMs.” However, while offerings like Cigna’s could help employers “smooth out the spikes in expenses,” businesses remain concerned about the overall costs of breakthrough therapies in the pipeline, he notes.

Besides Cigna, other major names in the insurance sector, such as CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna and Anthem, Inc., are working on their own solutions to help cope with high-cost therapies, including annuity-style payment arrangements and value-based contracts.

David Dross, managed pharmacy practice leader at the consulting firm Mercer, says some large, self-insured employers that are concerned about ultra-costly treatments are rethinking their decision to forgo stop-loss coverage.

However, issues can arise if clinical and financial management of a high-cost drug are done separately, he adds. In other words, a plan sponsor may determine that a member qualifies for a high-cost drug, but the stop-loss carrier that’s taking on the financial responsibility may not agree.