Oct. 15 Deadline Nears for Medicare Part D Coverage Notices

Are you ready for the Medicare Part D coverage notice deadline? Plan sponsors that offer prescription drug coverage must provide notices to Medicare-eligible individuals before October 15. Continue reading to learn more.


Plan sponsors that offer prescription drug coverage must provide notices of "creditable" or "non-creditable" coverage to Medicare-eligible individuals before each year's Medicare Part D annual enrollment period by Oct. 15.

Prescription drug coverage is creditable when it is at least actuarially equivalent to Medicare's standard Part D coverage and non-creditable when it does not provide, on average, as much coverage as Medicare's standard Part D plan.

The notice obligation is not limited to retirees and their dependents covered by the employers' plan, but also includes Medicare-eligible active employees and their dependents and Medicare-eligible COBRA participants and their dependents.

Background

The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 requires group health plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage to disclose annually to individuals eligible for Medicare Part D whether the plan's coverage is creditable or non-creditable.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has provided a Creditable Coverage Simplified Determination method that plan sponsors can use to determine if a plan provides creditable coverage.

Disclosure of whether their prescription drug coverage is creditable allows individuals to make informed decisions about whether to remain in their current prescription drug plan or enroll in Medicare Part D during the Part D annual enrollment period.

Individuals who do not enroll in Medicare Part D during their initial enrollment period, and who subsequently go at least 63 consecutive days without creditable coverage (e.g., because they dropped their creditable coverage or have non-creditable coverage) generally will pay higher premiums if they enroll in a Medicare drug plan at a later date.

Who Must Receive the Notice?

The notice must be provided to all Medicare-eligible individuals who are covered under, or eligible for, the sponsor's prescription drug plan, regardless of whether the plan pays primary or secondary to Medicare. Thus, the notice obligation is not limited to retirees and their dependents but also includes Medicare-eligible active employees and their dependents and Medicare-eligible COBRA participants and their dependents.

Notice Requirements

The Medicare Part D annual enrollment period runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. Each year, before the enrollment period begins (i.e., by Oct. 14), plan sponsors must notify Medicare-eligible individuals whether their prescription drug coverage is creditable or non-creditable. The Oct. 15 deadline applies to insured and self-funded plans, regardless of plan size, employer size or grandfathered status.

Part D eligible individuals must be given notices of the creditable or non-creditable status of their prescription drug coverage:

  • Before an individual's initial enrollment period for Part D.
  • Before the effective date of coverage for any Medicare-eligible individual who joins an employer plan.
  • Whenever prescription drug coverage ends or creditable coverage status changes.
  • Upon the individual's request.

According to CMS, the requirement to provide the notice prior to an individual's initial enrollment period will also be satisfied as long as the notice is provided to all plan participants each year before the beginning of the Medicare Part D annual enrollment period.

An EGWP exception

Employers that provide prescription drug coverage through a Medicare Part D Employer Group Waiver Plan (EGWP) are not required to provide the creditable coverage notice to individuals eligible for the EGWP.

The required notices may be provided in annual enrollment materials, separate mailings or electronically. Whether plan sponsors use the CMS model notices or other notices that meet prescribed standards, they must provide the required disclosures no later than Oct. 14, 2017.

Model notices that can be used to satisfy creditable/non-creditable coverage disclosure requirements are available in both English and Spanish on the CMS website.

Plan sponsors that choose not to use the model disclosure notices must provide notices that meet prescribed content standards. Notices of creditable/non-creditable coverage may be included in annual enrollment materials, sent in separate mailings or delivered electronically.

What if no prescription drug coverage is offered?

Because the notice informs individuals whether their prescription drug coverage is creditable or non-creditable, no notice is required when prescription drug coverage is not offered.

Plan sponsors may provide electronic notice to plan participants who have regular work-related computer access to the sponsor's electronic information system. However, plan sponsors that use this disclosure method must inform participants that they are responsible for providing notices to any Medicare-eligible dependents covered under the group health plan.

Electronic notice may also be provided to employees who do not have regular work-related computer access to the plan sponsor's electronic information system and to retirees or COBRA qualified beneficiaries, but only with a valid email address and their prior consent. Before individuals can effectively consent, they must be informed of the right to receive a paper copy, how to withdraw consent, how to update address information, and any hardware/software requirements to access and save the disclosure. In addition to emailing the notice to the individual, the sponsor must also post the notice (if not personalized) on its website.

Don't forget the disclosure to CMS

Plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare-eligible individuals must also disclose to CMS annually whether the coverage is creditable or non-creditable. This disclosure must be made no more than 60 days after the beginning of each plan year—generally, by March 1. The CMS disclosure obligation applies to all plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage, even those that do not offer prescription drug coverage to retirees.

SOURCE: Chan, K.; Stover, R. (10 September 2018) "Oct. 15 Deadline Nears for Medicare Part D Coverage Notices" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/medicare-d-notice-deadline.aspx/


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


A Look at Drug Spending in the U.S.

Spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. is projected to overtake other sectors of healthcare in 2018. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


This fact sheet was updated on April 26, 2018, to reflect newly published data.

Overview

Spending on prescription drugs in the United States is on the rise and is projected to outpace growth in other parts of the healthcare sector in 2018.1 Limited public data on how much various payers and supply chain intermediaries pay for prescription drugs, as well as a lack of consensus on a single metric for drug expenditures, presents methodological challenges in measuring drug spending.

See also: Specialty Drugs and Health Care Costs

Nevertheless, a number of public and private organizations have published drug spending estimates over the past several years, including the share of health spending attributed to drugs. Historical estimates and spending projections from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS’) National Health Expenditure Accounts (NHEA), the Altarum Institute, and IQVIA are explored in Figures 1 and 2.

Figure 1 illustrates estimates and projections of U.S. drug spending by source from 2010 to 2018. Each incorporates rebates and spending on drugs, excluding over-the-counter (OTC) products.

  • ASPE estimates total prescription drug spending, including retail and nonretail, using CMS NHEA, IQVIA, and Altarum Institute data.2
  • CMS’ NHEA data provide estimates of retail prescription drug spending, excluding nonretail.3
  • IQVIA estimates total manufacturer revenue (“net price spending”), accounting for rebates and other price concessions.IQVIA also breaks down manufacturer revenue for drugs sold in both retail and nonretail settings.

Figure 2 illustrates drug spending as a percentage of health expenditure. Each of these estimates incorporates rebates and spending in retail and nonretail settings excluding OTC products, unless noted below.

  • ASPE estimates total drug spending (retail and nonretail) as a percentage of personal health expenditures, a subset of national health expenditures.5
  • The Altarum Institute estimates total prescription drug spending (retail and nonretail) as a percentage of total national health expenditures.6
  • CMS NHEA estimates drug spending (excluding nonretail) as a percentage of total national health expenditures.7
  • IQVIA estimates net drug spending (retail and nonretail) as a percentage of health care spending, including OTC products that do not require a prescription.8

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

Organizations use different denominators to describe health care expenditures

  • National health expenditures: Total health expenditures, including medical spending and public health activities, administrative costs, and research investments (Altarum Institute and CMS).
  • Personal health expenditures: Spending exclusively on direct patient care (ASPE).
  • Healthcare spending: An estimate of health care spending from the World Health Organization (IQVIA).

What drug spending estimates include

  • Rebates: Drug price reductions intended to increase sales through formulary placement. While the method used to calculate the rebate is specified at the time of purchase, the actual rebate is received in the future, as it is based on product sales. Most rebates are paid to pharmacy benefit managers and health plans. Rebates are accounted for in all five estimates, but none of the organizations has access to the specifics of manufacturer agreements.9 IQVIA approximates rebates and other price concessions using publicly available wholesaler and pharmaceutical sales data, public financial filings, the Medicare trustees’ report, and proprietary audits. CMS NHEA adjusts estimated drug expenditures to account for rebates in retail and mail-order settings.10 Altarum Institute and ASPE apply CMS’ rebate adjustments to their drug expenditure estimates.
  • Payers: Entities other than patients responsible for paying health care costs. In the United States, payers generally include insurance companies, health plan sponsors—such as employers or unions—and pharmacy benefit managers. Medicare is the nation’s largest payer. CMS NHEA data include estimates of pharmaceutical expenditures by private health insurers and public health insurers such as Medicare and Medicaid. CMS NHEA data also incorporate the amount that premiums contribute to the cost of pharmaceuticals, though the data do not include the share of premiums that go toward pharmaceuticals. IQVIA does not directly incorporate patient premiums in its drug spending estimates. CMS NHEA data include nonretail prescription drug spending in overall health expenditures but do not separately report spending on nonretail drugs. Spending on drugs in these sites of care is included in overall health cost estimates for each respective setting (for example, drugs purchased by hospitals are reported as hospital spending). The Altarum Institute uses IQVIA data to estimate spending on nonretail prescription drugs. ASPE also publishes an estimate of pharmaceutical spending for both retail and nonretail outlets.
  • Over the counter: Drugs that do not require a prescription. Only the IQVIA estimate for net drug spending as a percentage of health care spending incorporates spending on OTC products.
  • Retail prescription drugs: Drugs sold in a retail setting, such as a pharmacy, drugstore, mail-order, or other mass-merchandising establishment.
  • Nonretail prescription drugs: Drugs dispensed in clinics and institutional settings such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, and nursing homes.

Endnotes

  1. Gigi A. Cuckler et al., “National Health Expenditure Projections, 2017–26: Despite Uncertainty, Fundamentals Primarily Drive Spending Growth,” Health Affairs 37, no. 3 (2018): 553–63, https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2016.1627; Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “National Healthcare Expenditure Data,” accessed February 14, 2018, https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData.
  2. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, “Observations on Trends in Prescription Drug Spending” (2016), https://aspe.hhs.gov/pdf-report/observations-trends-prescription-drug-spending. ASPE figures rely on data from the NHEA and the Altarum Institute. ASPE expenditures are available from 2009 to 2013 and projections from 2014 to 2018. This was a one-time publication.
  3. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “National Healthcare Expenditure Data.” CMS data are sourced from Census Bureau retail data, Medicare and Medicaid claims, and IQVIA data. CMS expenditures are available from 1970 to 2016 and projections from 2017 to 2026. CMS publishes these data annually.
  4. IQVIA, “Medicines Use and Spending in the U.S.: A Review of 2017 and Outlook to 2022” (2018), https://www.iqvia.com/institute/reports/medicine-use-and-spending-in-the-us-review-of-2017-outlook-to-2022. IQVIA data are sourced from wholesaler and pharmaceutical company sales information. IQVIA publishes expenditures from 2013 to 2017 and projections from 2018 to 2022. It updates this publication annually.
  5. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, “Observations on Trends in Prescription Drug Spending” (2016).
  6. Charles Roehrig, “A Ten Year Projection of the Prescription Drug Share of National Health Expenditures Including Non-Retail,” Altarum Institute (2017), https://altarum.org/sites/default/files/uploaded-publication-files/Non-Retail%20Rx%20Forecast%20Data%20Brief%20with%20Addendum%20May%202017.pdf.
  7. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “National Healthcare Expenditure Data,” accessed February 14, 2018, https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData.
  8. IQVIA, “Understanding the Dynamics of Drug Expenditure: Shares, Levels, Compositions and Drivers” (2017) https://www.iqvia.com/institute/reports/understanding-the-dynamics-of-drug-expenditure-shares-levels-compositions-and-drivers. IQVIA data are sourced from wholesaler and pharmaceutical company sales information and the World Health Organization’s Global Health Expenditure Database from December 2016. This one-time publication includes expenditures from 1995 to 2015.
  9. IQVIA accounts for but does not report drug supply and payment chain entity profit retentions (e.g., discounts, rebates, chargebacks and other financial transactions among manufacturers, pharmacy benefit managers, pharmacies, and wholesalers).
  10. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “National Health Expenditure Accounts: Methodology Paper, 2015,” https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/Downloads/DSM-15.pdf.

SOURCE: PEW (27 February 2018) "A look at drug spending in the U.S." (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/fact-sheets/2018/02/a-look-at-drug-spending-in-the-us


Amazon has just entered the drug-distribution business

Amazon is the king, knocking big competitors out one by one. Today, they take down pharmacies by offering online health-care services. See what Amazon has in store here.


Amazon.com Inc. agreed to buy the online pharmacy startup PillPack, jumping into the health-care business with a deal that will give the retail giant an immediate nationwide drug network.

The move represents a formidable threat to pharmacy chains including Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., which earlier Thursday reported tepid U.S. same-store sales, and rival CVS Health Corp. Walgreens was down 10 percent at 10:18 a.m. in New York, while CVS shares shed 8.9 percent.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2018, according to a statement from the companies.

The U.S. market for prescription medicine is huge. In 2016, U.S. consumers spent $328.6 billion on retail prescription drugs, according to the U.S. government. CVS reported prescription sales of $59.5 billion last year, and Walgreens sold $57.8 billion worth of drugs in its fiscal 2017.

PillPack has mail-order pharmacy licenses in all 50 U.S. states, which could allow Amazon to expand quickly. PillPack also has relationships with most major drug-benefit managers, including Express Scripts and CVS, and says it works with most Medicare Part D drug plans. Those ties will give Amazon access to much of the prescription drug market in the U.S.

PillPack sells pre-sorted packets of prescriptions drugs, delivering them to customers in their homes. The closely held firm has software that automates many routine pharmacy tasks, such as verifying when a refill is due, determining co-pays, and confirming insurance. That eliminates much of the manual work that pharmacists often are saddled with now.

The pact follows months of speculation about Amazon’s plans to get into the pharmacy or drug-distribution business. Despite the retailer’s vast reach, entering the market presented a daunting logistical challenge in terms of licensing and dealing with a range of private and government payers. Acquiring PillPack’s networks helps Amazon surmount those hurdles.

Michael Rea, chief executive officer of Rx Savings Solutions, said PillPack could transform the industry and that employers and health plans would benefit from the deal, which he called a “sign of the times.”

“This move signals just how big of a market opportunity there is to change the pharmacy landscape,” Rea said in an email.

Amazon has been disrupting businesses from electronics to household staples and even package delivery. Pharmacy and health-benefits companies have long fretted that they’d be next. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos signaled his interest in health-care earlier this year when he teamed up with Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s Warren Buffett and JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon to form a health-care company to manage the health plans of their more than 1 million employees.

The selloff in drugstore stocks was reminiscent of the food-industry swoon that resulted in June 2017 when Amazon said it was buying Whole Foods Market Inc. Kroger Co., the biggest U.S. supermarket chain, saw $2 billion in market value wiped out in one day. Big packaged food stocks also took a hit.

“When Amazon sneezes, everybody else catches a cold,” said Joseph Feldman, an analyst with Telsey Advisory. “And I think that that’s more likely than not what you’re going to see today.”’

Long time coming

Prescription drugs sales are largely intertwined with groceries and personal items like makeup and shampoo and Amazon already sells bulk packs of latex gloves, bed pads and syringes. It recently began selling medical devices and instruments, as well.

Bezos has been thinking about the drug business for nearly two decades; in 1999, Amazon purchased a stake in Drugstore.com. That effort ultimately failed and Walgreens purchased the money-losing startup in 2011 and ultimately shut it down.

Pharmacist TJ Parker and computer scientist Elliot Cohen founded PillPack in 2013 after meeting at a medical-technology program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The company raised more than $118 million from brand-name investors including Accel, Sherpa Capital and New York rapper Nas’s Queensbridge Venture Partners.

A September 2016 funding round valued the Boston-based startup at around $360 million, according to venture-capital database PitchBook. In April, CNBC reported Walmart Inc. was in talks to buy the company for “under $1 billion,” citing unnamed sources.

Standing firm

For now, Walgreens indicated that it was in no hurry to find a deal to respond to Amazon, despite the damage to its stock. On an earnings conference call, Walgreens CEO Stefano Pessina faced multiple questions from analysts about the PillPack deal.

“It is a declaration of intent from Amazon,” said Pessina.

He said Walgreens knew that PillPack was for sale as “it had been for sale for a while,” but that the retailer wouldn’t do deals based on emotions or make moves that could destroy value. Pessina insisted that physical pharmacies would continue to be “very important.”

The slump in Walgreens shares weighed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which added the stock to its index of 30 companies this month, replacing General Electric Co.

SOURCE:
Langreth R and Tracer Z (29 June 2018) "Amazon has just entered the drug-distribution business" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/06/28/amazon-has-just-entered-the-drug-distribution-busi/


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

 

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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