While many stakeholders have praised CMS’s move to allow Medicare Advantage (MA) plans to apply step therapy to drugs covered under Part B, others have cautioned that it could result in delays or restrictions in patients accessing much-needed medications, AIS Health reported.

On Aug. 7, CMS issued new guidance allowing MA plans to use step therapy for Part B drugs as of Jan. 1, 2019. The letter also states that those MA plans that also offer prescription drug coverage may use step therapy to have a beneficiary use a drug under Part D before stepping to one under Part B.

Matt Eyles, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, praised the administration’s move. He said, “patients and families deserve the prescription drugs they need at a price they can afford. The new CMS policy helps deliver on that promise while also helping to ensure patients continue to have access to safe, effective, and evidence-based care.”

Meanwhile, some groups expressed their concerns. In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, the American Medical Association said, “The AMA is concerned about the utilization management tools frequently used by PBMs and health plans to control costs, as they often have little clinical basis and can simply be a means of shifting costs in the system. For example, prior authorization and step therapy protocols can create significant barriers for patients by delaying the start or continuation of necessary medical treatment, which can negatively affect patient health outcomes.”

In an Aug. 8 research note, Leerink analysts noted that “pharmaceutical companies could be enticed to offer rebates back to payers and plans in order to gain preferred status at the front of a step-edit or risk losing volume as a second-line or later agent. In turn, these rebates will lower drug costs for Part B MA plans and patients, but also lower pharmaceutical revenues.”