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Perspectives on Legality of Closed Medicaid Formularies

March 19, 2020

As part of long-awaited guidance that CMS issued to states on Jan. 30 outlining how they can test-drive a fixed federal Medicaid budget and more program flexibilities, the Trump administration invited states to try out something else that hasn’t been done before: implement a closed drug formulary for a portion of their Medicaid population, AIS Health reported.

As part of long-awaited guidance that CMS issued to states on Jan. 30 outlining how they can test-drive a fixed federal Medicaid budget and more program flexibilities, the Trump administration invited states to try out something else that hasn’t been done before: implement a closed drug formulary for a portion of their Medicaid population, AIS Health reported.

“For the first time, participating states will have more negotiating power to manage drug costs by adopting a formulary similar to those provided in the commercial market, with special protections for individuals with HIV and behavioral health conditions,” CMS said in its press release unveiling the Healthy Adult Opportunity demonstration, which states can apply for via a Section 1115 Medicaid waiver.

Currently, states’ Medicaid programs must cover all FDA-approved drugs, as mandated by federal law. But CMS is suggesting that states can waive that requirement for the population they choose to cover under their demonstration — likely people who are covered by Medicaid expansion — and still participate in the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program.

But some industry experts tell AIS Health they’re not sure whether that will be legally permissible.

“I have my doubts as to whether this will bear legal scrutiny because it goes against the entire Medicaid Drug Rebate Program, which is rebates in exchange for open formularies,” says Jeff Myers, the former CEO of Medicaid Health Plans of America and founder of health care consulting firm OptDis.

Indeed, “the legal side is obviously the giant question with the whole Healthy Adult Opportunity program,” Jason Karcher, an actuary with Milliman, Inc., tells AIS Health. “We just don’t know how the courts will ultimately see this, although I think it would be fair to be skeptical that we’ll actually get to see a waiver under this [guidance] make it in the near future.”

Radar On Market Access: COVID-19 Outbreak Could Impact Drug Supply Long-Term

March 19, 2020

Industry experts say the COVID-19 outbreak is unlikely to limit U.S. drug supplies in the short or middle term. However, they tell AIS Health that increased demand for longer-duration stocks of medication from self-isolating patients could strain supplies going forward.

Industry experts say the COVID-19 outbreak is unlikely to limit U.S. drug supplies in the short or middle term. However, they tell AIS Health that increased demand for longer-duration stocks of medication from self-isolating patients could strain supplies going forward.

“We are told at this point that we’re not seeing any [drug] shortages in the marketplace today,” says Kelly McGrail-Pokuta, Prime Therapeutics’ vice president of pharmaceutical trade.

On Feb. 27, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn released a statement that said disruptions to the pharmaceutical supply chain have been minimal so far. The statement also said that the FDA was especially focused on 20 manufacturers that are particularly dependent on operations in China, and found that “none of these firms have reported any shortage to date.”

But on March 10, the FDA postponed all inspections of overseas drug manufacturing facilities “through April, effective immediately,” according to another statement released by Hahn.

During a pandemic, the CDC recommends anyone taking prescription medication to manage a chronic condition keep an expanded supply of their medicine on hand. As more people self-isolate, and consumers seek to spend less time in stores and other public places, demand for backup medication is likely to increase.

Mike Schneider, a principal at Avalere Health who previously worked for CVS Caremark, says PBMs and payers will have to rethink their typical posture toward chronic medication as enrollees stock up in anticipation of self-isolation.

“Hopefully, with everything going on related to coronavirus and people wanting to stock up, those quantity limits would be eased or eliminated for the most part for chronic meds,” says Schneider.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s “network of 36 independent and locally operated” affiliates have all decided to waive prescription refill limits on maintenance medications, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans. Other non-Blues insurers have also taken steps to allow members to refill prescriptions in advance.

Experts say it’s difficult to know whether the drug supply will be affected down the road. Schneider says consumer stockpiling and the FDA’s move to suspend foreign inspections could both make an impact on future supply.

Radar On Market Access: Insurers, Pharma Spar Over Copay Accumulator Provision

March 17, 2020

Health insurers are praising a provision in a recently proposed regulation that gives commercial plans greater leeway to run so-called copay accumulator programs, which prevent drug manufacturer coupons from counting toward patients’ annual deductibles or out-of-pocket cost limits. But the pharmaceutical industry slammed the proposal as “misguided” and liable to prevent patients from getting vital medications.

Health insurers are praising a provision in a recently proposed regulation that gives commercial plans greater leeway to run so-called copay accumulator programs, which prevent drug manufacturer coupons from counting toward patients’ annual deductibles or out-of-pocket cost limits. But the pharmaceutical industry slammed the proposal as “misguided” and liable to prevent patients from getting vital medications.

“I do think these programs are here to stay, and I do think they will continue to grow in terms of the absolute numbers as we head into ’22 and beyond,” Jayson Slotnik, a partner at Health Policy Strategies, LLC., tells AIS Health. From insurers’ point of view, copay accumulator programs help combat the perverse incentives that drug manufacturer coupons create: steering patients to pricey brand-name drugs by obscuring their true cost.

In its 2021 proposed Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters, CMS clarifies that all non-grandfathered individual and group market health plans “have the flexibility to determine whether to include or exclude coupon amounts from the annual limitation on cost sharing, regardless of whether a generic equivalent is available.”

To America’s Health Insurance Plans, it’s important to allow the use of copay accumulator programs even for drugs that don’t have a generic version in order to spur competition between branded drugs that can treat the same condition. “Drug manufacturers recognize this and spend billions of dollars to dilute the impact of competition by providing coupons for brand drugs that do not have a generic equivalent,” the trade group wrote in its comment letter about the proposed rule.

But the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) sees it very differently.

“It would compromise patients’ ability to adhere to prescribed medicines at a moment when insurance coverage for medicines continues to erode; it would put patient health and financial security in danger; it would run directly counter to the Administration’s stated policy of lowering patient out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs; and it could undermine the appeal and availability of high-deductible health plans,” PhRMA wrote.

Radar On Market Access: Insurers Deploy Array of Strategies to Manage Asthma

March 12, 2020

While payers have long used telephone-based care management teams to improve outcomes for members with asthma, now they’re also deploying other strategies to fine-tune their outreach to those who are in most need of support, AIS Health reported.

While payers have long used telephone-based care management teams to improve outcomes for members with asthma, now they’re also deploying other strategies to fine-tune their outreach to those who are in most need of support, AIS Health reported.

Every member with asthma should have an asthma action plan, says Karen Meyerson, director of commercial care management at Michigan-based Priority Health. Such a plan, which is completed by a patient’s doctor, should include a medication list, tips on recognizing worsening symptoms and steps for responding in an emergency.

Priority Health members can also use a cost-estimator tool to shop for the lowest-cost drugs. For example, members can use the tool to discover a less-expensive generic drug and a pharmacy where their asthma medications cost less.

Nurses and social workers at EmblemHealth conduct home visits to assess the level of dust and mold in asthma patients’ environments, Richard Dal Col, M.D., the insurer’s chief medical officer, tells AIS Health.

To help promote medication adherence, EmblemHealth charges members who use combination inhalers one copay, instead of two. The insurer also allows a 90-day supply for rescue and maintenance medications; depending on their plan design, members may be able to pay one copay, rather than three.

Blue Shield of California members with asthma can receive a home visit by a nurse or a physician. Phillip Baldi, D.O., lead medical care director at the insurer, says while home visits seem expensive, the insurer’s rates with a company providing home visits is comparable to what it pays for an in-person visit to a doctor’s office. “If we can divert five emergency room visits, we can have 50 home visits,” he tells AIS Health.

The insurer is also evaluating offering select maintenance drugs at lower or no copays for members with asthma.

Radar On Market Access: Florida Saw Strong MA, Individual Results and More Consolidations

March 10, 2020

Florida’s health insurers remain highly profitable as the overall market has grown significantly more concentrated, with companies such as Anthem, Inc. and Florida Blue snapping up numerous smaller HMOs over the past several years, particularly in the Medicare Advantage (MA) space, says the author of a new report on the Florida market.

Florida’s health insurers remain highly profitable as the overall market has grown significantly more concentrated, with companies such as Anthem, Inc. and Florida Blue snapping up numerous smaller HMOs over the past several years, particularly in the Medicare Advantage (MA) space, says the author of a new report on the Florida market.

Independent analyst and consultant Allan Baumgarten, who studies state health care markets, tells AIS Health that he expects consolidation to continue.

“There is a new crop of insurers that started business in 2019, including some new Medicare Advantage plans, plus Bright Health and Oscar [Health Insurance],” Baumgarten says. “I think that the Medicare Advantage plans, if they grow to a certain threshold size — maybe 25,000 enrollees or more — will be targets for acquisition. In fact, I think some of the entrepreneurs that started those new plans [did so] as a build and then sell strategy.”

Baumgarten’s report, which looked at enrollment, profitability and acquisitions in 2018, found that HMOs enjoyed strong profits in 2018 despite enrollment that slipped around 2.2%, mainly as a result of fewer people in Medicaid HMOs.

“For the health plans, two lines of business have been especially profitable — Medicare Advantage, consistently for the past eight years or more, and individual health plans [including exchange coverage] in the past two years,” Baumgarten says.

“The premiums paid to Medicare Advantage plans in Florida are among the highest in the country, which is why health plans are eager to start or acquire Medicare plans here,” the report explains.

Insurers weren’t the only health care players pursuing mergers and acquisitions in 2018, says. Overall, the report spotlights “growing consolidation on both the hospital system and health insurer sides, leading to strong profitability for both hospitals and health plans,” Baumgarten says.

Perspectives on ACA Exchange Draft Regulation

March 5, 2020

On Jan. 31, CMS released the 2021 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (NBPP), which is the annual omnibus regulation that outlines the rules of the game for Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange plans. But that was only after a trade group for safety-net health plans sent a strongly worded letter warning the Trump administration that the clock is ticking for issuers to finalize their 2021 premiums and benefit designs.

On Jan. 31, CMS released the 2021 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (NBPP), which is the annual omnibus regulation that outlines the rules of the game for Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange plans. But that was only after a trade group for safety-net health plans sent a strongly worded letter warning the Trump administration that the clock is ticking for issuers to finalize their 2021 premiums and benefit designs.

In its Jan. 27 letter, the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP) complained to CMS that the proposed 2021 NBPP “appears to be stalled at the Office of Management and Budget.” (The OMB completed its review of the regulation on Jan. 29.) Insurers need to submit qualified health plan (QHP) applications starting in early May, ACAP pointed out. “Building in a minimum 30-day comment period in addition to 30 days for the Department to review, revise, and release the final [rule] would allow just one month for issuers to operationalize and implement necessary updates,” the group wrote. “This timeframe will not allow issuers sufficient time to prepare products and operations for Benefit Year 2021.”

Fritz Busch, an actuary with Milliman Inc., tells AIS Health that the final NBPP has come out in April during the past two years, but before that arrived much earlier. The delay of the NBPP “presents operational challenges for a lot of plans, because so many plans are right in the middle of doing their pricing and other planning for the year,” he adds.

As for the content of the draft NBPP, the most attention-grabbing proposed changes to the rules surrounding subsidy eligibility. CMS said it’s seeking public comment on “new automatic re-enrollment processes for enrollees whose share of the premium after applying premium subsidies is $0, in order to reduce the risk of incorrect expenditures on subsidies that cannot be recovered through reconciliation.” In addition, “periodic data matching standards would be amended to help ensure premium subsidies are not inappropriately paid to enrollees who are determined to be deceased, or dually eligible for Medicare.”