The prescription drug distribution chain is complex and involves several stakeholders. There are generally six in the supply and demand of prescription drugs: pharmaceutical manufacturers, health insurers (including self-insured employers), pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), pharmacies, wholesalers, and patients.
These stakeholders’ contracts determine how much a patient’s health insurance pays for prescription drugs and the patient’s out-of-pocket costs. Pharmaceutical manufacturer rebates are one of the key drivers that influence how health insurers cover prescription drugs. Rebates affect the finances of all stakeholders involved in the prescription drug distribution chain.
Prescription drug rebates are generally paid by a pharmaceutical manufacturer to a PBM, who then shares a portion with the health insurer. Rebates are mostly used for high-cost brand-name prescription drugs in competitive therapeutic classes where there are interchangeable products (rarely for generics), and aim to incentivize PBMs and health insurers to include the pharmaceutical manufacturer’s products on their formularies and to obtain preferred “tier” placement.
The May 2018 “American Patients First: The Trump Administration Blueprint to Lower Drug Prices and Reduce Out-of-Pocket Costs” from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services targets rebates as part of its goal to lower prescription drug prices. In this article, Milliman’s Gabriela Dieguez, Maggie Alston, and Samantha Tomicki explain the finances associated with rebates and their impact on health insurer coverage decisions.
Rising prescription drug costs are old news. What is new, however, is just how high they have gone. Take the recent case of a member whose annual pharmacy spend is expected to exceed $7 million per year. That is the annual spend for one member. It turns out the medication is for a life-threatening, chronic, hereditary condition, and the medication will be needed for the remainder of the member’s life. This means no end in sight for the employer-sponsored insurance plan.
In the first year, the stop-loss coverage will cover the majority of this cost; however, there is the potential for a 40% to 60% increase in stop-loss premiums the following year, and even so, this member will be lasered out of any coverage in following years. In other words, the employer-sponsored health plan will be liable for this full amount going forward, plus any additional costs for this individual for medical or other pharmacy expenses (e.g., emergency room visits, hospitalizations, etc.).
Can employer-sponsored plans afford to absorb that kind of additional, annual spend in their healthcare budgets? In this particular case, the drug keeps the member alive, so not covering the medication is not an option, morally or ethically. But if this cost potentially bankrupts the plan, there will be no coverage for this member anyway.
So what can employers do to protect against this claim and others?
Sponsors of prescription drug plans that decide to change pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) may need help with pre- and post-implementation tasks. An experienced consultant can work with a sponsor to navigate complex contractual terms, develop an implementation plan, and conduct annual audits to ensure that the sponsor continues to receive the pricing terms and rebates negotiated with the PBM.
This paper by Milliman’s Angela Reed and Brian Anderson explores the PBM implementation process. The authors highlight key items that sponsors must consider for a successful PBM implementation and how an implementation manager can assist.
The high cost of therapy for patients with chronic hepatitis C (HCV) infection has been an important topic of discussion for key stakeholders in pharmacy benefit design and management. Multiple effective treatments have been introduced, with cure rates approaching 100%.
Although costly, curing HCV early on can prevent serious liver complications, such as hepatic cirrhosis, organ failure, and cancer, for the approximately 2.7 million affected people in the United States.
In 2016, there was a downward cost and utilization trend for the HCV Specialty category. Express Scripts reported in its 2016 Drug Trend Report that utilization of HCV therapies had decreased by 27.3% and the unit cost had decreased by 6.7%. The cost per member per year (PMPY) for HCV drugs decreased to $25.26 PMPY from $38.44 PMPY the previous year.
Why have cost and utilization suddenly decreased after two years of steady growth?
In this A.M Best video, Milliman consultant Brian Anderson discusses strategies for managing pharmaceutical drug costs. Among the strategies he talks about are limited pharmacy networks, consumerism through copay assistance programs, and price shopping.
Employers and other plan sponsors have the option of carving in or carving out their pharmacy benefit programs from their medical benefits. There are a number of important factors that should be considered when deciding whether or not to carve out pharmacy benefits. This article identifies the advantages and disadvantages of both options and raises important questions to consider when contemplating a move to carve-out.
When the pharmacy carve-in approach is used, the employer contracts directly with the medical health plan vendor for medical and pharmacy benefits. The vendor will either administer the program in-house or contract with a pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) vendor to process pharmacy claims and administer the pharmacy program. Because the employer contracts directly with the medical health plan vendor, there is no direct relationship with the PBM.
A pharmacy carve-in is typically used under the fully insured model. In 2015, the Pharmacy Benefit Management Institute (PBMI) reported 23% of smaller employers (less than 5,000 lives) and 7% of larger employers (greater than 5,000 lives) were fully insured. Under the fully insured model, the employer pays a premium to the insurer and the insurer assumes the risk of the total claims amount rather than the employer.
When the pharmacy carve-out approached is used, employers contract directly with a PBM vendor to administer their pharmacy benefits program.
A pharmacy carve-out is typically used under the self-insured model. In 2015, PBMI reported 77% of smaller employers and 93% of larger employers were self-insured. Under the self-insured model, the employer assumes the risk and benefits from managing costs. Pharmacy stop-loss insurance may be purchased to mitigate the risk of total claims amounts going over a certain threshold. A pharmacy carve-out can also be used with the fully insured model, although this is less common.