Trends That Matter

Trends That Matter for Medical-Benefit Drug Spending

May 21, 2020

Spending on prescription drugs that are covered under the medical benefit increased by 65% between 2014 and 2018 for commercial insurers and 40% for Medicare, according to Magellan Rx Management’s annual Medical Pharmacy Trend Report.

Spending on prescription drugs that are covered under the medical benefit increased by 65% between 2014 and 2018 for commercial insurers and 40% for Medicare, according to Magellan Rx Management’s annual Medical Pharmacy Trend Report.

“The increase in medical pharmacy spend seems to largely be driven by inflation,” Kristen Reimers, Magellan’s senior vice president of specialty clinical solutions, tells AIS Health. “This can be a combination of two things, increasing costs of existing drugs and providers utilizing newer more expensive drugs. The pipeline was extremely robust and new therapies to market are contributing to inflation, driving the trend.”

According to the report, new oncology therapies are both emblematic and a primary driver of growth in drug prices. A new generation of highly effective, biologic oncology drugs have emerged in the last decade. However, these pioneering drugs are expensive. According to the report, oncology drugs and the drugs needed to support them accounted for 43% of per-patient per-month medical pharmacy spending for commercial carriers.

Like other biologic drugs, most biologic oncology drugs have yet to see significant biosimilar competition due to barriers in the biosimilar market and development pipeline.

“The most exciting biosimilars are those currently in the oncology space. Herceptin, Avastin and Rituxan have been the top five drugs in terms of spend for the last 10 years,” says Reimers. “Rituxan and Avastin now have two biosimilars on the market, and Herceptin has five marketed products. There will be competition, which will help to flatten the trend for these products, although there is still expected to be growth.”

Trends That Matter for Biosimilar Medications Cost Savings

May 7, 2020

Biosimilar medications can offer meaningful cost savings for payers, but market and regulatory barriers are still preventing them from realizing their full economic potential, according to a March 31 Johns Hopkins University study funded by the ERISA Industry Committee.

Biosimilar medications can offer meaningful cost savings for payers, but market and regulatory barriers are still preventing them from realizing their full economic potential, according to a March 31 Johns Hopkins University study funded by the ERISA Industry Committee.

“We could see and empirically prove that patients…tended to be better off if they were on the biosimilar,” Mariana Socal, a physician and researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors, tells AIS Health. “They had lower out-of-pocket costs when they were on the biosimilar.”

While 16 biosimilars have earned FDA approval, according to the report, most of those drugs are the only biosimilar in their category, creating a duopoly price structure rather than robust market competition with at least three drugs.

Per the report, multiple biosimilars have entered the market for only two drugs, Remicade (infliximab) and Neupogen (filgrastim). The report concludes that, in those categories, biosimilar competition has generated remarkable cost savings and has the potential to generate much more through increased biosimilar use.

For infliximab, the reference biologic Remicade currently has the most covered lives among commercial formularies, while for filgrastim, Zarxio (a biosimilar for Neupogen) is the leader in market access, according to MMIT data.

Trends That Matter for Bipolar Disorder Medications

April 23, 2020

A recently approved brand drug for bipolar disorder will have little impact on how health plans cover these medications, experts tell AIS Health. Health plans will continue to encourage the use of less expensive generic bipolar drugs.

A recently approved brand drug for bipolar disorder will have little impact on how health plans cover these medications, experts tell AIS Health. Health plans will continue to encourage the use of less expensive generic bipolar drugs.

The brand drug, Allergan plc’s Vraylar (cariprazine), was approved by the FDA to treat depressive episodes associated with bipolar 1 disorder in adults. It is an oral, once-daily atypical antipsychotic.

Health plans employ several utilization management techniques for bipolar drugs, according to Mesfin Tegenu, R.Ph., president of PerformRx. Some examples include prior authorization, duplicate therapy edits, age restrictions and step therapy.

For Vraylar, health plans will use prior authorization or steps to encourage the use of a generic bipolar drug first, Michael Schneider, a principal at Avalere Health, tells AIS Health. There also could be some higher out-of-pocket costs for Vraylar even when compared to some of the other branded antipsychotic drugs.

Vraylar is in a protected drug class on the Medicare side, Schneider says. Because it is the first brand drug of a particular chemical entity, plans have to cover it. In some Medicare plans, Vraylar is disadvantaged because even through it is in a protected class, there are still utilization management techniques placed on the product, as well as higher cost sharing, he says.

In Medicaid, many states require all the antipsychotic bipolar drugs to be on the formulary with no utilization management, Schneider adds.

The graphic below show how bipolar disorder medications are covered among commercial health plans, health exchange programs, Medicare and Medicaid programs under the pharmacy benefit.

Trends That Matter for Cost Impact of Coronavirus Treatment

April 9, 2020

Though many health insurers have removed cost barriers related to testing patients for the new coronavirus that’s sweeping the globe, they largely haven’t pledged to waive out-of-pocket costs for severely sickened members who require hospitalization. A new analysis suggests that the cost of caring for those patients could be steep for members and health plans alike, but experts tell AIS Health it may be too early to say what that will actually mean for commercial insurance markets.

Though many health insurers have removed cost barriers related to testing patients for the new coronavirus that’s sweeping the globe, they largely haven’t pledged to waive out-of-pocket costs for severely sickened members who require hospitalization. A new analysis suggests that the cost of caring for those patients could be steep for members and health plans alike, but experts tell AIS Health it may be too early to say what that will actually mean for commercial insurance markets.

According to the analysis, from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), the average total cost — combining employer-plan spending and patient out-of-pocket costs — for a pneumonia-related hospital stay “with major complications and comorbidities” was $20,292 in 2018. For a stay “with complications or comorbidities,” the average cost was $13,767, and for patients without complications, the price tag was $9,763. Looking at out-of-pocket costs alone, the average cost for patients with major complications or comorbidities was $1,300.

But those estimates can only tell us so much about the financial impact of the pandemic, KFF Executive Vice President for Health Policy Larry Levitt said during a March 18 web briefing with reporters.

“We have some information about what the cost for each patient will be, but we have very little information yet about how many patients there may be,” Levitt said in response to a question from AIS Health. “And that’s the big area of uncertainty — how widespread the infection will be and how many people will become severely ill and require hospitalization. So insurers at this point are running blind on how much the total cost may be.”

Generally, regulators do not permit health insurers to recoup prior-year losses through premium increases, “so insurers are going to be focusing a lot on what the ongoing cost” of the coronavirus outbreak could be when pricing their products, Levitt said.

Trends That Matter for Asthma Medications

March 26, 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.

The graphic below show how Asthma medications are covered among commercial health plans, health exchange programs and Medicare programs under the pharmacy benefit.

Trends That Matter for Diabetes Drug Costs

March 12, 2020

With the cost of diabetes drugs still growing, PBMs and payers are looking for more innovative strategies to hold down costs, AIS Health reported. For some, that might include a strategy similar to the one recently unveiled by CVS Health Corp.’s Caremark unit. The plan, called RxZERO, offers a slimmer formulary for the diabetes drug class, but with no out-of-pocket costs for members.

With the cost of diabetes drugs still growing, PBMs and payers are looking for more innovative strategies to hold down costs, AIS Health reported. For some, that might include a strategy similar to the one recently unveiled by CVS Health Corp.’s Caremark unit. The plan, called RxZERO, offers a slimmer formulary for the diabetes drug class, but with no out-of-pocket costs for members.

Mike Schneider, a principal in the commercialization and market access practice at Avalere Health, says the plan is innovative. “You’ve seen Express Scripts do something where they’re offering specific insulins at very low out-of-pocket costs, but this is the first time I’ve seen a PBM come up with a way to eliminate out-of-pocket costs completely,” he tells AIS Health.

With the elimination of copays and other cost-sharing payments for diabetes drugs, CVS is betting members will better adhere to drug regimens and potentially avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and other services.

In January, Eli Lilly and Co. said it planned to sell new versions of Humalog Junior KwikPen and Humalog Mix 75-25 at half of their current U.S. list prices. Novo Nordisk A/S also started to offer generic versions of its frequently prescribed insulin drugs Novolog and Novolog Mix 70-30 at a 50% discount compared to the current list price. The graphics below show how these four medications are covered among commercial health plans, health exchange programs and Medicare and Medicaid programs.