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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.

Radar on Market Access: State Lawmakers Tee Up Bills on PBMs, Drug Pricing This Year

January 16, 2020

State lawmakers will continue to focus on the cost of prescription drugs as the 2020 legislative season gets underway, potentially advancing measures to require the disclosure of manufacturer drug pricing information and bills to limit or eliminate the role PBMs play in state Medicaid programs, AIS Health reported.

State lawmakers will continue to focus on the cost of prescription drugs as the 2020 legislative season gets underway, potentially advancing measures to require the disclosure of manufacturer drug pricing information and bills to limit or eliminate the role PBMs play in state Medicaid programs, AIS Health reported.

However, the abbreviated length of the election-year legislative sessions, plus some unexpected hiccups in states that already have passed bills on those issues, could limit how much actually gets done at the state level in 2020, legislative observers say.

“We expect considerable action this year, but it is a short session in most states, which limits the number of bills that will be considered,” says Trish Riley, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy. “We expect to see bills that address prices, address price gouging [and] allow importation. Several states may advance bills to allow a buy-in to public programs and the ability to bulk purchase drugs.”

In recent years, state lawmakers have been looking into managed care programs and their drug spend, turning to their PBM contracts as a source of potential savings, says Matt Magner, director of state government affairs for the National Community Pharmacists Association. West Virginia, for example, decided in 2017 to carve out its pharmacy benefits from its Medicaid program, Magner says, noting, “they saved $54 million in the first year they did that.”

Still, the pace of state legislative action regarding PBMs may not be as brisk in 2020 as it was in 2019. Riley says that PBMs already have been the subject of considerable state action, so it’s not clear how many more states will consider bills on PBM issues in 2020. “We may see several more states eliminate or deeply regulate PBMs in Medicaid and develop more enforceable contracts to ensure discounts are passed through,” she says.

Drug pricing likely will stay in the news, says Jeff Myers, founder of OptDis, but he anticipates a slowdown in drug price transparency legislation, in part because states that have approved such legislation are running into roadblocks in implementation.

Radar On Market Access: 2020 Could Be ‘Wild Year’ for Consolidated PBMs

January 14, 2020

Though the two major transactions that upended the PBM landscape — Cigna Corp. buying Express Scripts Holding Co. and CVS Health Corp. acquiring Aetna Inc. — have already taken place, that doesn’t mean the sector won’t see more changes this year, industry experts tell AIS Health.

Though the two major transactions that upended the PBM landscape — Cigna Corp. buying Express Scripts Holding Co. and CVS Health Corp. acquiring Aetna Inc. — have already taken place, that doesn’t mean the sector won’t see more changes this year, industry experts tell AIS Health.

“The market is evolving,” says Brian Anderson, a principal with Milliman, Inc. The year 2020 will be marked by a presidential election and significant price pressure on manufacturers, along with pharmacies trying to retain their margin, he adds, “so it’s going to be a really wild year.”

Indeed, 2019 ended with Prime Therapeutics LLC and Express Scripts unveiling a three-year collaboration in which the latter PBM will negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers, on behalf of Prime’s members, for drugs covered on the pharmacy benefit, as well as provide services related to retail network contracting.

By teaming up with Prime, Express Scripts will be leading rebate negotiations and pharmacy network development for 103 million people, Adam Fein, Ph.D., CEO of Pembroke Consulting, Inc.’s Drug Channels Institute, wrote in a blog post. “This combined volume of Express Scripts and Prime will have enormous leverage with manufacturers and pharmacies,” he noted.

To Ashraf Shehata, KPMG national sector leader for health care and life sciences, the Prime/Express Scripts partnership is yet another example of “pure play” PBMs’ move toward consolidation. Given that trend, the opportunity to scale up both organizations’ purchasing power, and “the ability to kind of lock in Blue clients,” Shehata says, “I think it makes a lot of sense” for the two PBMs to team up.

Employers, meanwhile, are likely to press PBMs of all varieties for innovative solutions — not just deep drug-pricing discounts — during the selling season for 2021 contracts, Anderson says.

Therefore, “there’ll probably be a lot of new innovators in the market — people coming up with new products that maybe look and sound different,” he says. “But the question people are going to have to ask is, how different really is it? And is it really a differentiator in the marketplace?”

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.