Therapeutic Interchange: How It Could Affect Patients and Plan Sponsors

Earlier this month CVS Health stated that it is using various tools to help keep the inflationary cost of medication down to 0.2%. One of their methodologies that is mentioned at face value sounds rather benign, but according to Jon Roberts, executive vice president and chief operating officer, CVS Health.

“The lower cost growth was due in part to utilizing low-cost generic drugs, which were dispensed to 86% of pharmacy benefit management (PBM) clients.” In other words, 17 out of 20 patients were moved to generics. The term “therapeutic alternatives” means that CVS will be (somehow) getting patients to use a less expensive medication within a therapeutic category.

Source:  http://www.amcp.org

Tyrone’s Commentary:

The author seems to miss at least part of the point. It’s not just CVS Health who benefits from lower cost therapeutic alternatives; plan sponsors and patients may also benefit. He points out an extreme case and that’s exactly what it is – extreme! If you don’t care for CVS Health write that but don’t deter patients from medications with equal efficacy yet lower cost. The AMCP agrees so I think I’ll go with them. I do, however, agree plan sponsors have a responsibility to keep PBMs honest in any therapeutic substitution program.

To use an extreme example of how this could play out: let’s take blood thinners, within that class are “new oral anticoagulants” which includes Paradaxa, Xarelto, Eliquis. These medications each costs several hundred dollars per month. The “old” generic anti-coagulant is Warfarin which typically costs a patient as little as $4.00/month.

[Read More]

Reference Pricing: “Gross” Invoice Cost for Popular Generic and Brand Prescription Drugs (Volume 216)

This document is updated weekly, but why is it important? Healthcare marketers are aggressively pursuing new revenue streams to augment lower reimbursements provided under PPACA. Prescription drugs, particularly specialty, are key drivers in the growth strategies of PBMs, TPAs and MCOs pursuant to health care reform.

The costs shared here are what the pharmacy actually pays; not AWP, MAC or WAC. The bottom line; payers must have access to actual acquisition costs or AAC. Apply this knowledge to hold PBMs accountable and lower plan expenditures for stakeholders.

How to Determine if Your Company [or Client] is Overpaying

Step #1:  Obtain a price list for generic prescription drugs from your broker, TPA, ASO or PBM every month.

Step #2:  In addition, request an electronic copy of all your prescription transactions (claims) for the billing cycle which coincides with the date of your price list.

Step #3:  Compare approximately 10 to 20 prescription claims against the price list to confirm contract agreement.  It’s impractical to verify all claims, but 10 is a sample size large enough to extract some good assumptions.

Step #4:  Now take it one step further. Check what your organization has paid, for prescription drugs, against our acquisition costs then determine if a problem exists. When there is a 5% or more price differential (paid versus actual cost) we consider this a problem.

Multiple price differential discoveries means that your organization or client is likely overpaying. REPEAT these steps once per month.

— Tip —


Always include a semi-annual market check in your PBM contract language. Market checks provide each payer the ability, during the contract, to determine if better pricing is available in the marketplace compared to what the client is currently receiving.


When better pricing is discovered the contract language should stipulate the client be indemnified. Do not allow the PBM to limit the market check language to a similar size client, benefit design and/or drug utilization. In this case, the market check language is effectually meaningless.

The role of PBMs in the drug supply chain — and why it matters to employers

Most employers don’t understand how PBMs make money and what role they play in the drug supply chain. The fact is these “middlemen” can drive up pharmacy costs. Historically, PBMs have two main goals:

1. Negotiate drug prices in an effort to keep costs low for consumers and employers.

2. Favor the most effective drug where there are similar drugs treating the same condition.

But PBMs also have a third goal: to make money for their owners and shareholders. Arguably this goal overrides the other two. Many industry watchers — and members of the public — are wondering if PBMs provide much value other than skimming as much profit from the drug supply chain as possible.

[Read More]

Reference Pricing: “Gross” Invoice Cost for Popular Generic and Brand Prescription Drugs (Volume 215)

This document is updated weekly, but why is it important? Healthcare marketers are aggressively pursuing new revenue streams to augment lower reimbursements provided under PPACA. Prescription drugs, particularly specialty, are key drivers in the growth strategies of PBMs, TPAs and MCOs pursuant to health care reform.

The costs shared here are what the pharmacy actually pays; not AWP, MAC or WAC. The bottom line; payers must have access to actual acquisition costs or AAC. Apply this knowledge to hold PBMs accountable and lower plan expenditures for stakeholders.



How to Determine if Your Company [or Client] is Overpaying

Step #1:  Obtain a price list for generic prescription drugs from your broker, TPA, ASO or PBM every month.

Step #2:  In addition, request an electronic copy of all your prescription transactions (claims) for the billing cycle which coincides with the date of your price list.

Step #3:  Compare approximately 10 to 20 prescription claims against the price list to confirm contract agreement.  It’s impractical to verify all claims, but 10 is a sample size large enough to extract some good assumptions.

Step #4:  Now take it one step further. Check what your organization has paid, for prescription drugs, against our acquisition costs then determine if a problem exists. When there is a 5% or more price differential (paid versus actual cost) we consider this a problem.

Multiple price differential discoveries means that your organization or client is likely overpaying. REPEAT these steps once per month.

— Tip —


Always include a semi-annual market check in your PBM contract language. Market checks provide each payer the ability, during the contract, to determine if better pricing is available in the marketplace compared to what the client is currently receiving.


When better pricing is discovered the contract language should stipulate the client be indemnified. Do not allow the PBM to limit the market check language to a similar size client, benefit design and/or drug utilization. In this case, the market check language is effectually meaningless.

Amazon About-Face On Drug Sales Not Surprising To Walgreens And CVS

News Amazon is backing away from an effort to sell drugs to hospitals doesn’t come as a surprise to retail drugstore chains Walgreens Boots Alliance, CVS Health and distributors in the specialty pharmacy business.

CNBC reported Monday that the online retailer Amazon has “shelved a plan to sell drugs to hospitals” citing “complexities around selling in bulk to large hospitals and building a logistics network to handle pharma delivery.”

Tyrone’s Commentary:

Amazon is bailing on selling prescription drugs due to complexities associated with the drug supply chain? I don’t know if it’s true, but the statement illustrates just how complex the U.S. pharmacy reimbursement and distribution system is for even the smartest companies. Amazon bails and you think you can manage pharmacy benefits efficiently by reading a blog post or watching a webinar or two? Don’t kid yourself. 

But it’s not like CVS and Walgreens didn’t warn of the complexities of getting into the business of selling and processing prescription drugs, particularly specialty prescriptions shipped to hospitals and clinics.  “There are many barriers to entry when you’re looking at pharmacy,” CVS CEO Larry Merlo said in August of last year during a call with analysts.

[Read More]

The Price of Non-Optimized Medication Therapy

Source:  Impact of medication adherence on
hospitalization risk and healthcare cost

Although rising prescription drug prices cause a financial burden, the cost often extends beyond the number that patients see on their bill, according to a recent analysis published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy. When medication regimens are not appropriately optimized for the patient, the consequences can carry a hefty price tag.

According to the analysis, death and illness resulting from non-optimized medication therapy costs $528.4 billion annually, which is equivalent to 16% of total US health care expenditures in 2016. As the most readily available access point for most patients, pharmacists can play a key role in ensuring that medication therapies are optimized to help produce the best outcomes at the lowest cost.

Tyrone’s Commentary:

No plan design is complete without a comprehensive medication adherence program. Key components of an employer plan to improve medication adherence include: 

  • Employee coaching and support teams 
  • Financial incentives to encourage medication adherence
  • Ensuring that the most appropriate medications are prescribed
  • Prescription management to avoid interactions and other dangers

The study was led by Jonathan Watanabe, PharmD, PhD, associate professor of clinical pharmacy in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy, with Jan Hirsch, PhD, professor of clinical pharmacy and chair of the Division of Clinical Pharmacy at Skaggs School of Pharmacy, and Terry McInnis, MD, of Laboratory Corporation of America and the Get the Medications Right Institute.

[Read More]

Reference Pricing: “Gross” Invoice Cost for Popular Generic and Brand Prescription Drugs (Volume 214)

This document is updated weekly, but why is it important? Healthcare marketers are aggressively pursuing new revenue streams to augment lower reimbursements provided under PPACA. Prescription drugs, particularly specialty, are key drivers in the growth strategies of PBMs, TPAs and MCOs pursuant to health care reform.

The costs shared here are what the pharmacy actually pays; not AWP, MAC or WAC. The bottom line; payers must have access to actual acquisition costs or AAC. Apply this knowledge to hold PBMs accountable and lower plan expenditures for stakeholders.



How to Determine if Your Company [or Client] is Overpaying

Step #1:  Obtain a price list for generic prescription drugs from your broker, TPA, ASO or PBM every month.

Step #2:  In addition, request an electronic copy of all your prescription transactions (claims) for the billing cycle which coincides with the date of your price list.

Step #3:  Compare approximately 10 to 20 prescription claims against the price list to confirm contract agreement.  It’s impractical to verify all claims, but 10 is a sample size large enough to extract some good assumptions.

Step #4:  Now take it one step further. Check what your organization has paid, for prescription drugs, against our acquisition costs then determine if a problem exists. When there is a 5% or more price differential (paid versus actual cost) we consider this a problem.

Multiple price differential discoveries means that your organization or client is likely overpaying. REPEAT these steps once per month.

— Tip —


Always include a semi-annual market check in your PBM contract language. Market checks provide each payer the ability, during the contract, to determine if better pricing is available in the marketplace compared to what the client is currently receiving.


When better pricing is discovered the contract language should stipulate the client be indemnified. Do not allow the PBM to limit the market check language to a similar size client, benefit design and/or drug utilization. In this case, the market check language is effectually meaningless.

Two Generic Medications Become One Cash Cow Drug

Source:  Consumer Reports

For at least the past three years, Todd Smith and Benjamin Bove have crisscrossed the U.S., offering a sure-fire fix for struggling pharmaceutical companies. And wherever they go, the price of prescription drugs tends to skyrocket.

Their strategy is simple and, they say, good for patients: Thwart efforts by health plans to block access to drugs – and serve up what Smith calls their “special sauce” to get those meds into the hands of customers who need them.

The main ingredients include copays that are often zero, even for pricey drugs. Smith, 48, and Bove, 40, also offer the use of so-called specialty pharmacies – one of which they previously owned – to make it hassle-free for doctors and more affordable for patients. Yet critics point out that, over time, everyone might end up paying the price in the form of higher premiums. 

“It’s totally a wrong way to frame the issue to say it’s free to the patient,” said Stephen Schondelmeyer, a professor of pharmaceutical economics at the University of Minnesota. “It’s ripping people off.”

Tyrone’s commentary:

Implement a PBM oversight plan. PBM performance should be monitored on an ongoing basis with a formal business review no less than annually. The types of routine monitoring activities performed by the plan sponsor can vary based on past performance with the PBM or the nature of the services performed. The type and frequency of monitoring should be documented in the contract before it is executed.

The plan sponsor should establish key performance metrics designed to measure the PBM’s services. For example, if the plan sponsor delegates call center operations to a PBM, then the performance metrics should include, at a minimum, hold time, average speed of answer and abandoned rate.

The PBM oversight program must also define what happens if the vendor’s performance is below the plan sponsor’s performance expectations. When noncompliant performance occurs, the plan sponsor should request a formal action plan defining specific activities to ensure performance meets the defined expectations. Depending upon the severity of performance, the plan sponsor should consider increasing monitoring and audit activities of the PBM.


If nothing else, Smith and Bove’s business strategy illustrates a drug-pricing ecosystem that many agree is deeply flawed. President Donald Trump has accused drug companies of “getting away with murder,” and his Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, has vowed to bring drug prices down. Yet the system is averse to change because so many of its key players continue to profit from its complexity and lack of transparency. Patients, meanwhile, are faced with fewer choices and higher deductibles and insurance premiums.

“These sophisticated traps are designed to pay off certain members of the supply chain in a way that exploits the employer, the insurance company and the consumer,” said Michael Rea, chief executive officer of Rx Savings Solutions, which has an app that allows patients to find lower drug costs.

[Read More]

“Don’t Miss” Webinar: How to Slash PBM Service Costs, up to 50%, Without Changing Vendors or Benefit Levels

How many businesses do you know want to cut their revenues in half? That’s why traditional pharmacy benefit managers don’t offer radical transparency and instead opt for hidden cash flow opportunities such as rebate masking. Want to learn more?


Here is what some participants have said about the webinar.

“Thank you Tyrone. Nice job, good information.” David Stoots, AVP

“Thank you! Awesome presentation.” Mallory Nelson, PharmD

“Thank you Tyrone for this informative meeting.” David Wachtel, VP

“…Great presentation! I had our two partners on the presentation as well. Very informative.” Nolan Waterfall, Agent/Benefits Specialist


A snapshot of what you will learn during this 30 minute webinar:

  • Hidden cash flows in the PBM Industry such as formulary steering, rebate masking and differential pricing 
  • How to calculate cost of pharmacy benefit manager services or CPBMS
  • Specialty pharmacy cost-containment strategies
  • The financial impact of actual acquisition cost (AAC) vs. maximum allowable cost (MAC)
  • Why mail-order and preferred pharmacy networks may not be the great deal you were sold
Sincerely,
TransparentRx
Tyrone D. Squires, MBA  
3960 Howard Hughes Pkwy., Suite 500  
Las Vegas, NV 89169  
866-499-1940 Ext. 201


P.S.  Yes, it’s recorded. I know you’re busy … so register now and we’ll send you the link to the session recording as soon as it’s ready.

When left to their own accord, non-fiduciary PBMs will act in their own self-interest

Yesterday an article appeared in my bi-weekly newsletter which outlined how non-fiduciary PBMs make money in the back-end through a little known hidden cash flow tactic called back-billing. The article must have hit a nerve because I received quite a bit of feedback. One email I received in particular stood out. I’ll get to that later.

A couple of days ago I spent an hour talking with a seasoned consultant about how guaranteed AWP discounts aren’t in their clients best interest. Sure, guaranteed discounts are better than nothing but even better are plan sponsors paying actual pharmacy reimbursement (APR) which in turn makes AWP discounts ineffectual. He didn’t buy it!

Unsolicited email depicting back-billing case (click to enlarge)

Take a look at what Caterpillar Inc. is doing particularly the part about “it decided to determine its own pricing methodologies in contracts rather than using PBM-negotiated drug prices.” Discounts off AWP are a distraction used by non-fiduciary PBMs to perpetuate the opacity in their dealings. Caterpillar learned this a decade ago and is likely using a pricing methodology closely resembling APR.

Because it is shifting costs or service fees to the back-end, a non-fiduciary PBM will often come in at a lower price on the front-end (claims repricing and adjudication). I know what you’re thinking – sour grapes. Trust me it’s not I just don’t like to see people taken advantage of. But, if I try to help and you ignore it then you know how the saying goes, “fool me once…”

This brings me to the point of this post and I’m quoting a peer Lisa Gish who wrote to me recently, “can’t seem to shake my displeasure with the lack of forward thinking consultants who are absolutely stuck in old mindsets and tactics.” Nuff said now about that email I received.

I must admit part of the reason I’m sharing this email, albeit redacted, is because I too am frustrated by consultants and self-insured employers who evaluate claims repricings but don’t take into consideration hidden costs especially those in the back-end. What good are transparent, fiduciary or pass-through agreements if plan sponsors and their advisers aren’t sophisticated enough to verify if they are actually receiving it?

In conclusion, PBMs accepting a fiduciary responsibility is meaningless if plan sponsors and their advisers aren’t sophisticated enough to uncover hidden cash flows generated by non-fiduciary PBMs. The costs will almost always appear to be lower from the latter. Don’t take my word for it click on the image above and see for yourself. I redacted the PBM’s name but just know it is one of the big five.