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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.

Radar On Market Access: Navajo Nation, Molina Partner on Medicaid Managed Care in New Mexico

January 7, 2020

The business arm of the Navajo Nation plans to contract with Molina Healthcare, Inc., to offer Medicaid managed care as part of a partnership between New Mexico, tribal officials and the insurer, AIS Health reported.

The business arm of the Navajo Nation plans to contract with Molina Healthcare, Inc., to offer Medicaid managed care as part of a partnership between New Mexico, tribal officials and the insurer, AIS Health reported.

The program would be the first-ever Medicaid managed care program dedicated solely to the health care, cultural needs and geographic needs of native populations living in the Navajo Nation, according to Molina.

The new managed care plan — which Navajo Nation-owned Naat’aanii Development Corporation hopes to launch in 2020 — could cover up to 75,000 Navajos who live in New Mexico.
“This is very much led by the Navajo Nation,” says Sandeep Wadhwa, M.D., chief health officer and senior vice president of government programs for Solera Health.

The deal appears to be the first between a managed care company and an organization that is owned by a Native entity, Wadhwa, who is not affiliated with Molina, tells AIS Health. “There is a dimension of self-determination by the tribe and by American Indians that hadn’t been realized previously,” he says.

Under Medicaid, state-contracted managed care plans may be an option for American Indians and Alaska Natives, but this is the first time a tribal nation has contracted with a state Medicaid program, Wadhwa adds.

Approximately 100,000 Navajos live in New Mexico, and around three-quarters of them are eligible for Medicaid, according to the New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD). Navajos experience a heavy disease burden, with a mortality rate that’s 31% higher than the overall U.S. rate, HSD figures show.

If this arrangement with Molina and the Navajo Nation helps to improve health outcomes and reduce costs, there may be other tribes and tribal nations that consider similar initiatives, Wadhwa says.

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.

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.

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.