CMS is proposing major changes to Part D’s pharmacy regulations. Most notably, CMS wants to shake up the current model for preferred pharmacy networks, which would be required to explicitly save money for both the government and the Part D beneficiaries. CMS also wants to open up these networks to any pharmacy willing to cut prices.
Under the proposed rules, plan sponsors and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) would face intense scrutiny over cost savings, pharmacy network design, and generic prescription reimbursement using Maximum Allowable Cost (MAC). CMS also wants to remove certain cost sharing advantages for mail pharmacies, which would be another big negative for PBMs.
Below, I summarize the key issues. Comments are due by March 7, 2014, so you better start reading!
PREFERRED NETWORKS: AIN'T NOTHIN' BUT A HEARTACHE
CMS wants to slow the growing Medicare Part D preferred pharmacy phenomenon.
CMS argues that that preferred networks are not always providing lower costs, per the study that I describe in New CMS Study: Preferred Pharmacy Networks are Cheaper (Except When They’re Not). CMS writes:
“Our findings -- that a few sponsors have actually offered little or no savings in aggregate in their preferred pharmacy pricing, particularly in mail-order claims for generic drugs -- are troubling. Instead of passing through lower costs available through economies of scale or steeper discounts, a few sponsors are actually charging the program higher negotiated prices.”To eliminate ambiguity and ensure that preferred networks actually deliver lower costs to the government and the Part D enrollees, CMS proposes the following new definition:
“Preferred cost-sharing in network pharmacies. A Part D sponsor offering a Part D plan that provides coverage other than defined standard coverage may reduce copayments or coinsurance for covered Part D drugs obtained through a subset of network pharmacies, as long as such preferred cost sharing is offered in accordance with the requirements of § 423.120(a)(8) and for Part D drugs with consistently lower negotiated prices than the same drugs when obtained in the rest of the pharmacy network."Consistent with this language, CMS also wants to ditch the somewhat pejorative term “preferred pharmacies” in favor of the more descriptive term “preferred cost savings.”
CMS solicited comments on many related questions, including:
- Should CMS establish standards on how much lower drug costs should be in return for preferred cost sharing?
- Should Medicare require a minimum level of savings, such as 10 percent or 15 percent, over the costs available at retail cost-sharing rates?
- How broadly should preferred cost sharing be applied to drugs on a sponsor's formulary? (CMS asks: “For instance, is it reasonable to offer cost sharing as low as $0 for only the least expensive generics on formulary? Or should preferred cost sharing have to apply to a minimum percentage of formulary products to be a meaningful benefit instead? Or should preferred cost sharing have to apply to all drugs available at pharmacies offering preferred cost sharing?” Reasonable questions, IMHO.)
CMS blithely disregards the fundamental economic question: With Any Willing Provider, why would any pharmacy now want to offer a “preferred cost-sharing” deal to a Part D sponsor? If these proposals are adopted, we could see preferred networks shrink substantially.
MAC: TELL ME WHY
For pharmacy industry lobbyists, CMS granted a big win regarding Maximum Allowable Cost (MAC) reimbursement. See Section 28, starting on page 254.
As Drug Channels readers probably know, a MAC establishes the reimbursement limit for a particular strength and dosage of a generic drug that is available from multiple manufacturers with potentially different list prices, i.e., a multiple-source drug.
There is no standardized definition for MAC, so generic drug reimbursement to a pharmacy can vary significantly among payers. Since MAC limits directly affect a pharmacy’s revenues and profitability, they are intensely disliked by pharmacy owners.
CMS proposes defining "prescription drug pricing standard" in regulation, as:
"any methodology or formula for varying the pricing of a drug or drugs during the term of a pharmacy reimbursement contract that is based on the cost of a drug, which includes, but is not limited to, drug pricing references and amounts that are based upon average wholesale price, wholesale average cost, average manufacturer price, average sales price, maximum allowable cost (MAC), or other cost, whether publicly available or not."As a result, MAC prices would be subject to the requirement that they “accurately reflect the market price of acquiring the drug” and be updated “not less frequently than once every 7 days.” This change has become more relevant in an era of skyrocketing prices for some generics, as I describe in Retail Generic Drug Costs Go Up, Up, and Away.
In addition, Part D sponsors would have to disclose all individual drug prices (including MAC prices) in advance of a pharmacy’s reimbursement. The CMS proposal echoes so-called “MAC transparency” laws in Arkansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Oregon, and Texas. These laws typically require disclosure of sources and computation of a third-party payer’s MAC limits. For instance, Oregon H.B. 2123, which became effective on January 1, 2014, requires PBMs to disclose the sources utilized to determine the MAC pricing, update MAC lists every seven business days, and exclude dispensing fees from the MAC calculation.
MAIL ORDER: AIN'T NOTHIN' BUT A MISTAKE
Starting here, CMS takes aim at “mail order cost sharing,” by proposing to remove copayment incentives that favor mail pharmacies.
CMS proposes three levels for cost sharing:
- Standard (prescriptions for 34 days or less)
- Preferred (prescriptions for 34 days or less offered dispensed by “preferred cost sharing” pharmacies)
- Extended day’s supplies (prescriptions of more than 34 days)
- Mail order pharmacies cannot have cost sharing lower than a comparable one month supply filled at retail
- For extended days’ supplies, mail cost sharing can’t be less than the standard cost sharing at retail pharmacies.
Bottom line: On almost all issues, CMS granted the wishes of independent pharmacy owners. The NCPA’s lobbying efforts paid off handsomely. Now, let the commenting games begin!
I never want to hear you say...that you can't see the video of the CMS press conference below. Click here if you can't see the video.