How employers can manage the skyrocketing cost of specialty drugs

Since the 90's, the number of specialty medications, not to mention their costs, has grown exponentially. Continue reading to learn what employers can do to manage these costs.


In the past two decades, the number of specialty medications — which treat rare and complex diseases such as multiple sclerosis, pulmonary arterial hypertension, hepatitis C, HIV, cystic fibrosis, some types of cancer and hemophilia — has grown exponentially. In 1990, there were only 10 specialty drugs on the market. By 2015, that number had increased to 300 medications, and by the end of 2016 there were approximately 700 more specialty drugs in development.

These medications are usually very high cost, with some new biologic medications costing more than $750,000 a year. Why are the costs so high? There are a number of factors, including the facts that distribution networks are limited, these medications are complicated to develop and distribute, and there are few, if any, generic alternatives for these drugs.

See also: A Look at Drug Spending in the U.S.

The Pew Charitable Trusts found that although only 1% to 2% of Americans use specialty medications, they account for approximately 38% of total drug spending in the U.S.

So, how can employers better gain control over the cost of specialty medications? Because there are hundreds of specialty medications, there’s no single strategy for cost management that can be applied universally. To build an effective cost management strategy, employers need to first analyze employee use of specialty medications. The best strategy will approach specialty medication management by disease class and drug by drug.

However, there are key building blocks of a strategy that will both manage costs and ensure that employees have access to the medications they need. Here are six things employers can do.

Assess benefit plan design structure. Employers should consider how they are incenting employees to spend their benefit dollars appropriately and wisely. A multi-tiered medication formulary where employees pay less out of pocket for generic drugs and lower cost medications and more for costly medications is one approach that’s proven effective. To help employees afford these higher out-of-pocket costs, employers can promote manufacturer copay savings programs, which many drug makers offer.

Think about utilization management. This can include requiring prior authorization for high-cost specialty medications and step therapies (employees must start with lower cost therapies and can move up to more costly ones if those are not effective).

Consider a custom pharmacy network design. By narrowing the network of pharmacies that fill specialty medication prescriptions, employers can negotiate a better unit price. A freestanding specialty pharmacy or a pharmacy benefits manager can provide savings by optimizing discounts for both employers and employees.

Offer second opinion and other support services for rare and complex diseases. A newly diagnosed rare or complex disease patient will see, on average, seven different specialists over the course of eight years before getting a true diagnosis and appropriate treatment path. These programs aim to reduce that burden and ensure success with that treatment once it’s identified. A second opinion from a top specialist in the field provides an expert assessment of the diagnosis and recommendations on the most effective treatment protocol. This not only helps manage costs, it lowers the risk of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment. Additional case management services can include one-to-one counseling and, when the drug regimen requires, in-home nursing services to help patients better manage their disease and improve outcomes.

See also: Specialty Drugs and Health Care Costs

Offer site of care choices. Where specialty drugs are administered can have a significant impact on what they cost. Medications administered in an outpatient clinic at a hospital can cost five times as much as those that are injected or infused in a physician’s office or at the patient’s home. Offering services such as home infusion or injection delivered by nurses or incenting patients with lower copays when they receive their medications at their physician’s office can lower overall specialty drug costs.

Educate employees. When an employee or covered family member is diagnosed with a rare or complex condition that will require a higher level of care and the use of specialty medications, employers can connect employees with case managers or similar services that provide education about the condition and the medication, such as how to manage side effects or what alternative medications are available, which can increase employee adherence with the medication regimen.

SOURCE: Varn, M (8 August 2018) "How employers can manage the skyrocketing cost of specialty drugs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/specialty-pharmaceuticals-and-how-employers-can-manage-cost


Specialty Drugs and Health Care Costs

Prescription drug spending is rising every year and a significant portion of that spending it on specialty drugs. Read on to learn more.


This November 2015 fact sheet was updated in December 2016 to reflect new data.

Overview

Spending on prescription medications continues to rise each year in the United States.1Specialty drugs— including those used to treat conditions such as cancer and hepatitis C—represent a significant portion of this spending. The high cost of these novel therapies, which often offer advancements in patient care, raises affordability concerns for health plans, patients, and consumers.

What is a specialty drug?

The Pew Charitable Trusts defines specialty drugs as medications with high costs for a course of treatment or a year of therapy. Some health plans also categorize drugs as specialty if they are novel therapies; require special handling, monitoring, or administration; or are used to treat rare conditions. In general, elevated costs are a distinguishing characteristic of specialty drugs. A recent survey found that 85 percent of health plans consider high cost a determining factor in identifying specialty drugs.2 Medicare’s definition of specialty drugs is also based on price: Pharmaceuticals costing $600 or more per month are considered specialty.3

See also: How employers can manage the skyrocketing cost of specialty drugs

Cost implications

The estimated price tag for treating a patient with a specialty drug is high: For some chronic conditions, a year of treatment with a specialty drug can exceed $100,000.4 In 2015, only 1 to 2 percent of the American public used specialty drugs, yet they accounted for approximately 38 percent of total drug expenditures.5 And the price of many specialty drugs continues to rise: In 2015, specialty drug unit costs increased by 11 percent.6 More patients are treating their health conditions with these drugs; utilization rose by 6.8 percent in 2015 because of increased use of existing drugs and the introduction of new pharmaceuticals.7 In 1990, only 10 specialty drugs were on the market,8 but there are now more than 300,9 33 of which became available in 2015 alone.10 And nearly 700 specialty drugs are under development.11 Because of higher prices and increased use, spending on specialty drugs represents an increasing share of total health care costs.12 In 2015, specialty drug spending reached $121 billion on a net price basis.13 The estimated number of Americans with annual drug costs greater than $50,000 increased 63 percent in 2014, from 352,000 people to 576,000.14 Many of these patients take multiple drugs, and 92 percent use high-priced specialty drugs.15 Importantly, patients who need specialty drugs face higher out-of-pocket (OOP) costs, because health plans often require a co-insurance payment, which is a set percentage of a drug’s price. Some plans charge a co-insurance payment as high as 33 percent.16

Managing specialty drug costs

To deal with the high cost of specialty medications, payers in public and private programs use a number of strategies to control patient OOP costs and member premiums, such as negotiating with manufacturers to obtain rebates and other discounts that help reduce the prices that plan members pay for medications. Payers also use different benefit design strategies to ensure the appropriate use of medications and manage total drug spending, including:

Formularies and cost sharing: Specialty drugs are typically placed in a health plan’s highest drug formulary tier, where OOP costs are most expensive. Patients are often required to pay co-insurance in order to access these medications. Research shows that requiring patients to pay more out of pocket reduces their use of prescription drugs.17 In their negotiations with drug manufacturers, payers can sometimes achieve lower prices by allowing patients to pay lower OOP costs for drugs.

See also: A Look at Drug Spending in the U.S.

Step therapy: When multiple treatment options are available for a patient’s condition, plans sometimes require patients to try, and fail, treatment with a cheaper, traditional drug before letting them access a specialty drug. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis, for example, are sometimes required to attempt therapy with traditional oral medications before they can use specialty biologics.18

Prior authorization: These policies require a health care professional to provide documentation that validates a patient’s need for a particular medication. Under most prior authorization criteria, clinical information is necessary to verify that a specialty drug is medically appropriate for a patient before coverage is granted.

Looking forward

Many specialty drugs offer meaningful therapeutic advances over existing treatments. However, if current trends continue, the high cost of specialty drugs will have a significant impact on overall health care spending and patients’ OOP costs. Pew is focused on identifying and evaluating policy options that balance the need to control overall health care spending with ensuring patient access to appropriate medications.

Endnotes

  1. Express Scripts, 2015 Drug Trend Report (2016), https://lab.express-scripts.com/lab/drug-trend-report.
  2. EMD Serono, EMD Serono Specialty Digest, 10th Edition: Managed Care Strategies for Specialty Pharmaceuticals (2014), http://specialtydigest.emdserono.com/pdf/Digest10.pdf.
  3. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Announcement of Calendar Year (CY) 2016 Medicare Advantage Capitation Rates and Medicare Advantage and Part D Payment Policies and Final Call Letter (2015), http://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Health-Plans/MedicareAdvtgSpecRateStats/Downloads/Announcement2016.pdf.
  4. Bradford R. Hirsch, Suresh Balu, and Kevin A. Schulman, “The Impact of Specialty Pharmaceuticals as Drivers of Health Care Costs,” Health Affairs 33, no. 10 (2014): 1714–1720, http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/33/10/1714.short.
  5. Express Scripts, 2015 Drug Trend Report.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. American Journal of Managed Care, “The Growing Cost of Specialty Pharmacy—Is it Sustainable?” (2013), http://www.ajmc.com/payer-perspectives/0213/the-growing-cost-of-specialty-pharmacyis-it-sustainable.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Express Scripts, “FDA Approvals Set All-Time High” (2016), https://lab.express-scripts.com/lab/insights/drug-options/fda-approvals-set-all-time-high.
  11. IMS Health, “Overview of the Specialty Drug Trend: Succeeding in the Rapidly Changing U.S. Specialty Market” (2014), http://docplayer.net/4230764-Overview-of-the-specialty-drug-trend.html.
  12. The estimates in this section are based on published reports, some of which use different definitions for a specialty drug. However, the various authors do note that drug price or cost is used as part of their definitions of specialty.
  13. Quintiles IMS Institute, “Medicines Use and Spending in the U.S.: A Review of 2015 and Outlook to 2020,” (2016), http://www.imshealth.com/en/thought-leadership/quintilesims-institute/reports/medicines-use-and-spending-in-the-us-a-review-of-2015-and-outlook-to-2020.
  14. On an invoice price basis, specialty spending was $150.8 billion in 2015.
  15. Express Scripts, “Super Spending: U.S. Trends in High-Cost Medication Use” (2015), http://lab.express-scripts.com/lab/insights/drug-options/super-spending-us-trends-in-high-cost-medication-use.
  16. Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicare Part D at Ten Years: The 2015 Marketplace and Key Trends, 2006-2015 (2015), http://kff.org/medicare/report/medicare-part-d-at-ten-years-the-2015-marketplace-and-key-trends-2006-2015/.
  17. Dana P. Goldman, Geoffrey F. Joyce, and Yuhui Zheng, “Prescription Drug Cost Sharing: Associations With Medication and Medical Utilization and Spending and Health,” Journal of the American Medical Association 298, no. 1 (2007): 61–69, http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=207805.
  18. Express Scripts, Drugs That Require Prior Authorization (PA) Before Being Approved for Coverage (2015), https://www.express-scripts.com/art/medicare15/pdf/prior_authorization_choice.pdf.

SOURCE: PEW (16 November 2015) "Specialty drugs and health care costs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/fact-sheets/2015/11/specialty-drugs-and-health-care-costs


Benefit change could raise costs for patients getting drug copay assistance

Health plans may change with time. Know what to expect and how to respond with these tips on how to avoid unexpected changes.


Since Kristen Catton started taking the drug Gilenya two years ago, she’s had only one minor relapse of her multiple sclerosis, following a bout of the flu.

She can walk comfortably, see clearly and work part time as a nurse case manager at a hospital near her home in Columbus, Ohio. This is a big step forward; two drugs she previously tried failed to control her physical symptoms or prevent repeated flare-ups.

This year, Catton, 48, got a shock. Her health insurance plan changed the way it handles the payments that the drugmaker Novartis makes to help cover her prescription’s cost. Her copayment is roughly $3,800 a month, but Novartis helps reduce that out-of-pocket expense with payments to the health plan. The prescription costs about $90,000 a year.

Those Novartis payments no longer counted toward her family plan’s $8,800 annual pharmacy deductible. That meant once she hit the drugmaker’s payment cap for the copay assistance in April, she would have to pay the entire copayment herself until her pharmacy deductible was met.

Catton is one of a growing number of consumers taking expensive drugs who are discovering they are no longer insulated by copay assistance programs that help cover their costs. Through such programs, consumers typically owe nothing or have modest monthly copayments for pricey drugs because many drug manufacturers pay a patient’s portion of the cost to the health plan, which chips away at the consumer’s deductible and out-of-pocket maximum limits until the health plan starts paying the whole tab.

Under new “copay accumulator” programs, that no longer happens.

In these programs, the monthly copayments drug companies make don’t count toward patients’ plan deductibles or out-of-pocket maximums. Once patients hit the annual limit on a drugmaker’s copay assistance program, they’re on the hook for their entire monthly copayment until they reach their plan deductible and spending limits.

Catton put the $3,800 May copayment on a credit card. She knows her insurer will start paying the entire tab once she hits the pharmacy deductible. But, she said, she can’t afford to pay nearly $9,000 a year out-of-pocket for the foreseeable future.

“I’m talking to my doctor to see if I can I take it every other day,” she said. “I guess I’m winging it until I can figure out what to do.”

Drug copay assistance programs have long been controversial.

Proponents say that in an age of increasingly high deductibles and coinsurance charges, such help is the only way some patients can afford crucial medications.

But opponents say the programs increase drug spending on expensive brand-name drugs by discouraging people from using more cost-effective alternatives.

Switching to a cheaper drug may not be an option, said Bari Talente, executive vice president for advocacy at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“Generally the multiple sclerosis drugs are not substitutable,” she said. “Most have different mechanisms of action, different administration and different side effect profiles.” Generics, when they’re available, are pricey too, typically costing $60,000 or more annually, she said.

Most MS drug annual copay assistance limits, if they have them, are between $9,000 and $12,000, Talente said.

Employers argue that the drug copayment programs are an attempt to circumvent their efforts to manage health care costs. For example, employers may try to discourage the use of a specialty drug when there’s a lower-cost drug available by requiring higher patient cost sharing.

There’s also the issue of fairness.

“From an employer perspective, everyone under the plan has to be treated the same,” said Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), which represents large employers.

If someone needs medical care such as surgery, for example, that person doesn’t get help covering his deductible, while the person with the expensive drug might, he said.

According to an NBGH survey of about 140 multistate employers with at least 5,000 workers, 17 percent reported they have a copay accumulator program in place this year, Marcotte said. Fifty-six percent reported they’re considering them for 2019 or 2020.

If there is no comparable drug available, drug copayment programs may have a role to play if they can be structured so that participating patients are paying some amount toward their deductible, Marcotte said. But, he said, assistance programs for drugs that are available from more than source, such as a brand drug that is also available as a generic, shouldn’t be allowed.

In 2016, 20 percent of prescriptions for brand-name drugs used a drug copay assistance coupon, according to an analysis by researchers at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. Among the top 200 drugs based on spending in 2014, the study found that 132 were brand-name drugs, and 90 of them offered copay coupons. Fifty-one percent of the drugs with copay coupons had no substitute at all or only another brand drug as a close therapeutic substitute, the analysis found.

Advocates for people with HIV and AIDS say copay accumulators are cropping up in their patients’ plans and beginning to cause patients trouble. Drugs to treat HIV typically don’t have generic alternatives.

The biggest impact for the community their organizations serve may be for PrEP, a daily pill that helps prevent HIV infection, said Carl Schmid, deputy executive director at the AIDS Institute, an advocacy group. A 30-day supply of PrEP (brand-name Truvada) can cost nearly $2,000. Drug manufacturer Gilead offers a copay assistance program that covers up to $3,600 annually in copay assistance, with no limit on how much is paid per month.

“They’re at risk for HIV, they know it and want to protect themselves,” Schmid said. “It’s a public health issue.”

Earlier this month, the AIDS Institute was among 60 HIV organizations that sent letters to state attorneys general and insurance commissioners across the country asking them to investigate this practice, which has emerged in employer and marketplace plans this year.

Compounding advocates’ concerns is the fact that these coverage changes are frequently not communicated clearly to patients, Schmid said. They are typically buried deep in the plan documents and don’t appear in the user-friendly summary of benefits and coverage that consumers receive from their health plan.

“How is a patient to know?” Schmid asks. They learn of the change only when they get a big bill midway through the year. “And then they’re stuck.”

SOURCE:
Andrews M (25 MAY 2018). [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://khn.org/news/benefit-change-could-raise-costs-for-patients-getting-drug-copay-assistance/


The Results Are In: These Are the Companies With the Most Influence Over Washington

 

300x200

Poll: Americans Aghast Over Drug Costs But Aren’t Holding Their Breath For A Fix

The recent school shootings in Florida and Maryland have focused attention on the National Rifle Association’s clout in state and federal lobbying activities. Yet more than the NRA or even Wall Street, it’s the pharmaceutical industry that Americans think has the most muscle when it comes to policymaking. A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 72 percent of people think the drug industry has too much influence in Washington —outweighing the 69 percent who feel that way about Wall Street or the 52 percent who think the NRA has too much power. Only the large-business community outranked drugmakers. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Drug prices are among the few areas of health policy where Americans seem to find consensus. Eighty percent of people said they think drug prices are too high, and both Democrats (65 percent) and Republicans (74 percent) agreed the industry has too much sway over lawmakers. Democrats were far more likely than Republicans — 73 vs. 21 percent — to say the NRA had too much influence. The monthly poll also looked at views about health care. Americans may be warming to the idea of a national health plan, such as the Medicare-for-all idea advocated by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Overall, 59 percent said they supported it, and even more, 75 percent, said they would support it if it were one option among an array for Americans to choose.

Americans are far more concerned with lowering prescription drug prices, though they don’t trust the current administration to fix the problem. Fifty-two percent said lowering drug costs should be the top priority for President Donald Trump and Congress, but only 39 percent said they were confident that a solution would be delivered. “There’s more action happening on the state level; what we are finding is they’re not seeing the same action on the federal level,” said Ashley Kirzinger, a senior survey analyst for KFF’s public opinion and survey research team. “They’re holding the president accountable as well as leaders of their own party.”

Overall, at least three-quarters of people don’t think Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as the Trump administration, are doing enough to bring costs down. Twenty-one percent reported that they didn’t trust either party to lower prices, up from 12 percent in 2016. And, unlike other health-related policy questions such as repealing the Affordable Care Act or creating a national health plan, the poll does not find a partisan divide on this perception.

Passing legislation to lower drug prices was at the top of the list of the public’s priorities, making it more important than infrastructure, solving the opioid epidemic, immigration reform, repealing the ACA or building a border wall. Looking ahead to the 2018 midterm elections, 7 percent reported that creating a national health plan was the “single most important factor” for how they would vote in 2018. However, 7 in 10 said it is an important consideration, and 22 percent said it is not an important factor at all.

The poll found that support for the federal health law fell this month, from February’s all-time high of 54 percent to 50 percent in March. Opposition moved up slightly from 42 to 43 percent. The poll was conducted March 8-13 among 1,212 adults. The margin of sampling error is +/-3 percentage points. KHN’s coverage of prescription drug development, costs and pricing is supported by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation .

—khn.org