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Promising Business Model Targets Traditional PBMs

December 15, 2010 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medicine Advice, Medtipster, Prescription News, Prescription Savings

www.Medtipster.com Source: Seeking Alpha.com – 12.14.2010

Four years ago, Walmart (WMT) launched its four dollar generic drug program. Target (TGT), Costco (COST), K-Mart (SHLD), and others implemented similar plans soon after.

Many experts expected a direct challenge to mail-order pharmacies, and head-to-head price competition. Some believed the pricing initiative doomed the traditional pharmacy benefit management (“PBM”) business model.

Not only have the major PBMs survived, they’ve thrived—and once again deflected a substantial market challenge. Shares in Medco Health Solutions (MHS) and Express Scripts (ESRX) have more than doubled. Both now trade at or near all-time highs. (The CVS Caremark (CVS) price is flat, but the company has navigated an unfulfilling merger that has so far diluted the value of the legacy Caremark operation.)

Traditional PBMs, however, should not rest too comfortably, according to a recent white paper by Milliman*, the actuarial consultancy. The paper, entitled “The Value of Alternative Pharmacy Networks and Pass-Through Pricing”, explores the emergence of transparent retail pharmacy networks that build on Walmart’s and other large retailers’ aggressive cost-cutting capabilities.

Milliman calls these new business models Alternative Pharmacy Networks, or “APNs”. The paper presents analysis that estimates cost savings of between four and 13 percent beyond a traditional PBM service for an average employer with 10,000 lives.

Even though pharmacy costs are small as a percentage of total employer health care costs (medical benefit costs can be at least four times as great), the savings are real, especially against a tough economic environment. For large corporations employing tens of thousands, scale advantages could produce even bigger percentage savings.

Because the APN creates a transparent marketplace, it bestows employers, or plan sponsors, an intangible benefit of eliminating the traditional PBM’s information advantage. The APN takes away what the PBM knows about drug pricing and how it leverages this.

Most important, the APN is an emerging model. Only a few large employers such as Caterpillar (CAT) utilize it. One catalyst—beyond sponsors seeking additional savings—could be small PBMs reinventing themselves. The three big PBMs—Medco, Caremark and Express Scripts—are powerful players. Their aggressive strategies and market consolidation leave little room for others to compete.

APNs, Miliman states, feature two characteristics: one, substantially lower drug prices and dispensing fees than traditional pharmacies; two, ‘pass-through’ attributes including rebates that flow from manufacturer to employer and a PBM that collects no spread or drug cost differentials. (Instead of rebates and spreads, the PBM makes money on a flat administrative fee.)

Whereas, in the traditional model, PBMs negotiate price with plan sponsors, the APN model allows in-network pharmacies to compete for consumers on price and service. Control, in effect, shifts to the employer (the payer), and, depending on how the employer arranges the APN, the consumer.

So why haven’t APNs gained greater momentum? There are several reasons. Perhaps the most important is the resilience of mail order, the traditional PBM’s core franchise. Mail order is a distinct class of trade, the Milliman paper notes, which means PBMs can purchase drugs from manufacturers at prices lower than wholesalers or retail pharmacies. It also allows for price arbitrage strategies not available to retailers.

The traditional model also wins on market inertia. While the APN does offer real savings, traditional PBMs can argue that they too create savings, and have been doing so for years. Sponsors focus more on trend than details anyway, and new contracting means hassle. Moreover, sponsors care much more about the medical side of the ledger, since it’s the principle contributor to price inflation.

No doubt, if the number of employers weighing the APN option accelerates, then the PBM universe could rebalance. The odds of the traditional model collapsing appear slim, however.

For small PBMs and new entrants, the APN model does finally establish a vehicle that can compete against the big three PBMs.

More than existing share, revenue that the APN does claim will likely constitute new share in a growing marketplace of aging baby boomers and new-to-market oral specialty pharmaceuticals.

The big three PBMs have consistently shaped and dominated the pharmacy distribution chain. As time passes, their biggest risk may not be the APN, but their own success in building behemoth businesses that ultimately limit maneuverability.

*Medtipster.com Note: Medtipser.com, LLC. operates as an Alternative Pharmacy Network (APN) and offers a unique APN employer product saving an average of 10% over a traditonal pharmacy benefit manager.

Most large employers changing health benefit for 2011

August 23, 2010 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medtipster, Prescription News

www.Medtipster.com Source: Employee Benefit News – By Kathleen Koster – 8.18.2010

According to a new survey by National Business Group on Health, more than half (53%) of large U.S. employers plan to revise their 2011 health care benefit programs in the wake of health care reform legislation and anticipated large benefit cost increases next year.

Also considering the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 19% of respondents are scaling back changes they planned to make while an equal number are making no changes.

The remaining respondents were still undecided pending further review of the final regulations.

Among employers who will be making specific changes to their health benefit plans to comply with the new law, 70% said they will remove lifetime dollar limits on overall benefits while 37% said they will make changes to annual or lifetime limits on specific benefits.

Approximately one-fourth will remove annual dollar limits on overall benefits while 13% reported they will remove pre-existing condition exclusions for children.

The survey, based on responses from 72 of the nation’s largest corporations representing more than 3.7 million employees, was conducted in May and June 2010.

“While the health reform law has forced employers to evaluate their health care benefit strategies and decide whether to comply with the law or lose grandfathered status, they haven’t lost sight of the fact that controlling rising costs remains one of, if not, their highest priority. They have to foot the bill, not the government,” says Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health. 

“In fact, with cost increases expected to accelerate next year, many of the plan design changes employers are making are being done to help curb those increases, as they have to do every year,” she adds.

Employers estimate their health care benefit costs will jump to an average of 8.9% next year, compared with an average increase of 7% this year. To help curb those increases employers plan to use a wider variety of cost-sharing strategies.

According to the survey, 63% of employers plan to increase the percentage employees contribute to the premium, up from 57% who did so this year, while 46% plan to raise out-of-pocket maximums next year compared with 36% this year.

In order to further mitigate costs, employers are shifting to consumer-directed health plans. In fact, 61% of plan sponsors will offer a CDHP in 2011.

While the most common type of plan employers will offer is a high-deductible plan combined with a health savings account (64%), the survey found a large spike in employers moving to a full replacement plan.

Among employers offering a CDHP, the number moving to a full replacement plan doubled from 10% this year to 20% in 2011.

“Consumer directed health plans are living up to their expectations as a way to help save employers money and put employees in greater control of their health care.  In fact, offering these plans was the most often-cited tactic by employers to control costs.  We fully expect that employer interest in CDHPs, and especially full-replacement plans, will continue to increase in the future,” says Darling.

As the health reform law makes Medicare Part D benefits richer as the “doughnut hole” closes between now and 2020, 5% of employers plan to drop retiree health coverage in 2011 while 60% are considering doing so in the future.

In attempt to cut costs with wellness initiatives, 41% of employers offered premium discounts for completing health assessments while 22% offered premium discounts for participating in tobacco cessation programs.

In addition, one in four (25%) of plan sponsors plan to raise the co-pay or co-insurance for retail pharmacy prescription drug benefits while 21% plan to do the same for mail-order pharmacy benefits.

Copies of the survey report can be found at www.businessgrouphealth.org.

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