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Specialty Drug Trend of 18.4% Dwarfs Traditional Drug Trend of -1.5%

March 11, 2013 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medtipster, Prescription News, Prescription Savings

www.Medtipster.com Source: Drug Channels, 3/6/2013

Express Scripts just released the latest iteration of its long-running Drug Trend Report. This year’s report includes both Express Scripts and legacy-Medco covered lives, so it’s the most comprehensive look at pricing and utilization.

Study findings

  • Specialty drug trend of 18.4% dominated traditional drug trend of -1.5%.
  • Drug trend for traditional drugs fell to a record-low -1.5%, due largely to the growing substitution of less-expensive generic drugs.
    • Utilization increased by 0.6%, but costs decreased by 2.2%.
  • Drug trend for specialty drugs was 18.4%, consistent with its high growth rate over the past six years.
    • Utilization decreased by 0.4%, while costs increased by 18.7%.
  • Specialty spending is concentrated in a few conditions. For traditional drugs, treatments for the top three conditions of diabetes, high blood cholesterol, and high blood pressure–accounted for 30% of total per-member, per year (PMPY) spend.
  • For specialty drugs, treatments for the top three conditions–inflammatory conditions, multiple sclerosis, and cancer–accounted for 58% of total PMPY spend.
  • Trend reflects two primary components
    • Change in Utilization (the total quantity of drugs obtained by plan members)–Utilization varies with changes in the number of plan members on drug therapy, the degree to which plan members are adherent to their drug therapy, and a change in the average number of days of treatment.
    • Change in Unit Costs–Unit costs vary with:
      • 1) the rate of inflation in brand-name drugs prices,
      • 2) shifts to different drug options within a therapeutic class,
      • 3) a shift in mix of therapeutic classes utilized by plan members, or
      • 4) the substitution of generic drugs for brand-name drugs.

 

Drug Prices Up 3.5% For 2012

December 04, 2012 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medicine Advice, Medtipster, Prescription News, Prescription Savings

www.Medtipster.com Source: www.express-scripts.com, 11.28.12

According to the Express Scripts Prescription Price Index, prices on a market basket of the most highly utilized brand-name medications increased 13.3 percent from September 2011 to September 2012, far outpacing the overall economic inflation level of 2.0 percent. During the same timeframe, prices of generic medications declined 21.9 percent. This 35.2 percentage point net inflationary effect is the largest widening of brand and generic prices since Express Scripts began calculating its Prescription Price Index in 2008.

“The patent cliff has fueled a growing price disparity between brand-name and generic medications,” said Steve Miller, M.D., chief medical officer at Express Scripts. “The trend emphasizes the nation’s continued need for the tools we employ to help patients make better decisions, including generic use when appropriate.”

Drivers of Traditional Drug Trend

During the first three quarters of 2012, spending on traditional medications decreased 0.6 percent over the same period in 2011, primarily driven by lower prices brought on by increased use of generic medications.

The top traditional therapy class is mental and neurological disorders (including antidepressants), which now consumes 24.7 percent of all traditional drug spend. Although use of these medications has increased 3.1 percent compared to the first three quarters of 2011, total spending in this class is down 1.9 percent due to newly available generic antidepressants and antipsychotics.

Total spending on medications to treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol decreased 7.7 percent, primarily driven by the continued impact of patent expirations for blockbuster drugs.

Drivers of Specialty Drug Trend

Specialty drug trend continues its year-over-year double-digit growth. During the first three quarters of 2012, spending on specialty medications increased 22.6 percent over the same period in 2011, primarily driven by unit cost increases. In the first nine months of 2012, specialty drug costs consumed 20.8 percent of total pharmacy spend.

“The continued rise in spend on specialty medications underscores the nation’s need to accelerate the pathway for biosimilars,” Dr. Miller said. “Additional competition within these therapy classes would provide a necessary market control against price inflation.”

The three therapy classes representing the largest amount of specialty drug spend continue to be rheumatoid arthritis/autoimmune conditions, multiple sclerosis and cancer.

Medications commonly used to treat hepatitis C continue to have the largest specialty spend increase, 117.3 percent over the same period in 2011. Increased utilization is driving this trend, as new patients begin and continue treatment with one of two new medications.

Eight of the nine notable new medications approved in the third quarter are specialty medications. Many of these medications are second-line and third-line drugs indicated to treat advanced cancers.

Spotlight on Obesity Medications

The report reviews the two new anti-obesity medications approved this summer by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In clinical trials, many patients taking either of the new medications lost at least 5 percent of their body weight.

“The potential benefits of these new anti-obesity medications need to be compared against their risks and cost,” Dr. Miller said. “We are cautiously optimistic about the possibilities of these and other drugs like them, provided that they are prescribed appropriately and integrated with other lifestyle modifying programs that help patients make healthier choices that maintain their weight over time.”

The Three Behavioral Factors Driving Rx Spend Waste

September 27, 2011 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medtipster, Prescription News, Prescription Savings

www.Medtipster.com Source: Express Scripts 9.27.11

“We have long used financial incentive to eliminate waste. Now we’re finding that tools that build upon the insights of behavioral economics and psychology can have powerful, positive effects.”
- Alan Garber, MD, PhD, Professor of Health Economics, Stanford University

The above quote is from Dr. Alan Garber, one of the most respected healthcare economists in the country. Dr. Garber recognizes that Plan Sponsors have a critical need for a “new toolbox” to help eliminate healthcare spend waste and drive better behavior.

Plan Sponsors will certainly agree with the statement “behavior is important”, but they are also acutely concerned with dollars. They will want to know specifically – in hard dollars – how behavior is impacting their costs.

What stands between the doctor and optimal health outcomes is consumer behavior. Wasteful pharmacy-related behavior costs the healthcare system a staggering $403 billion a year:

Drug Mix: $51 billion – People using a brand drug when a generic drug would be just as effective

Channel Choice: $6 billion – People choosing to continue to get their maintenance medication at a retail pharmacy instead of using home delivery

Non Adherence: $106 billion – People not taking their medications appropriately

Clearly, consumer behavior is a factor that you cannot leave out of the equation when trying to get the most out of your pharmacy benefit. So what can we do to motivate people to change? To improve Rx spend effectiveness?

Most PBMs offer two options to increase the effectiveness of the plans performance – passive education programs and mandatory programs. Mandatory programs are effective, but because of the potential for noise, many Plan Sponsors have not wanted to use them. Passive programs solve the noise issue, but don’t achieve the effectiveness that most plans need today. So how do we move from where we are today to maximizing plan performance without putting mandatory programs in place?

We can close a great deal of this gap by applying the behavioral sciences to healthcare. This allows Plan Sponsors to achieve greater effectiveness without the member disruption.

Five Largest PBMs

September 26, 2011 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medtipster, Prescription News

www.Medtipster.com Source: Mallory Gillikin, 9/20/2011, www.BusinessInsurance.com

Business Insurance released its ranking of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit managers. 

  1. Medco - Franklin Lakes, N.J.-based firm reported $66 billion in unbundled PBM revenues in 2010, a 10.4% increase from 2009
  2. CVS Caremark Corp.  – Woonsocket, R.I.-based firm retained the No. 2 position in the 2011 ranking, reporting $47.8 billion in unbundled PBM revenues in 2010, a 6.4% decrease from 2009.
  3. Express Scripts Inc. – Reporting nearly $45 billion in unbundled PBM revenues in 2010, St. Louis-based  firm remained in the No. 3 position in this year’s Business Insurance ranking. Express Scripts, which acquired WellPoint Inc.’s NextRx subsidiaries in December 2009, reported an 81.7% increase in unbundled PBM revenues in 2010.
  4.  Prescription Solutions Inc. - Irvine, Calif.-based firm and
  5. Catalyst Rx - Rockville, M.D.-based firm rounded out the top five largest PBMs.

To view the full ranking or to purchase copies of the 2011 Directory of Largest Pharmacy Benefit Managers, go to www.BusinessInsurance.com/directories.

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.

Generic drugs saved Medicare and beneficiaries $33 billion in 2007

September 16, 2010 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medicine Advice, Medtipster, Prescription News, Prescription Savings

www.Medtipster.com Source: Associated Press (AP) – 9.16.2010

Generic medications saved the government and Medicare prescription drug plan beneficiaries about $33 billion in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office report.

The report, highlighted on Wednesday by the trade group Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, says an additional $14 billion is expected as first-time generics enter the market through 2012. Medicare Part D is Medicare’s prescription drug program.

“This new research highlights the importance of this proven pharmacy benefit management cost-savings tool,” the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association said in a statement. “Tools pioneered by pharmacy benefit managers, including encouraging the use of generic medications, have lowered costs and expanded access to prescription drugs for seniors in Medicare Part D.”

Pharmaceutical Care Management Association is a trade and lobbying group representing pharmacy benefit managers. During the second-quarter of 2010, the group spent $551,889 lobbying the federal government on issues that affect pharmacy benefit managers, including federal reimbursement on pharmacy payments, rebates, and the regulation of imported prescription drugs. Other issues included lobbying for audit reform on pharmacy benefit managers, according to a filing with the House Clerk’s office on July 20.

Pharmacy benefits managers include Medco Health Solutions Inc., based in Franklin Lakes, N.J., which saw a 14 percent jump in second-quarter profit to $356.9 million on a 10 percent boost in revenue to $16.41 billion. Other pharmacy benefit mangers include Express Scripts Inc., based in St. Louis, which saw second-quarter profit surge 50 percent to $289.9 million on a doubling of revenue to $11.29 billion.

Pharmacy Benefit Discounts Continue, But At Slower Pace

August 12, 2010 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medtipster, Prescription News, Prescription Savings

www.Medtipster.com Source: Dow Jones Newswires, By Dinah Wisenberg Brin – 8.11.10

The U.S.’s big pharmacy benefit managers continue to offer clients better deals this year as they compete for business, but they don’t appear to be sliding into a frenzy of unreasonable pricing.

In the current “selling season,” when PBMs look to sign customers for the following year, discounts on new contracts have deepened by one or two percentage points, on average, from a year ago. While PBMs are still lowering their pricing, the pace is slower than a year ago, when PBMs were willing to expand discounts by as much as five percentage points, according to benefit consultants who guide employers on choosing a vendor.

It is unclear how the lower prices will impact margins next year at large PBMs like Medco Health Solutions Inc. (MHS), CVS Caremark Corp. (CVS) and Express Scripts Inc. (ESRX). The increased use of generic drugs, which lowers PBMs’ costs, allows them to be more flexible with prices. That accounts for some of the discount.

The big PBMs have reported lower margins this year, citing a variety of reasons. Medco, though, specifically mentioned lower pricing on renewing contracts, among other items.

PBMs “are taking a little bit of a hit to margin, not much, but they are taking one,” said Michael Jacobs, national clinical practice leader at Xerox Corp.’s (XRX) Buck Consultants. He said the companies have ways of making up elsewhere for client discounts — through greater operating efficiency, cost-shifting to members or raising prices on other drugs.

PBMs handle prescription-drug benefits for employers and health plans, negotiating pricing — including rebates and discounts — with drug makers and pharmacies. They also run their own profitable mail-order pharmacies. The competitive industry has come under increasing pressure to pass along rebates and discounts and improve transparency.

Currently, the industry is engaged in its selling season for 2011 contracts, with billions of dollars in new and renewing business up for grabs or already won.

“Pricing got more competitive this year,” said Kristin Begley, national pharmacy practice leader at benefits consultant Hewitt Associates Inc. (HEW), who didn’t see much switching among her large, national clients, many of which contract with CVS Caremark or Medco.

Rebates got better, and there were “overall better deals across the board,” Begley said. Also, she said, most Hewitt client bids this year required full transparency on pricing structure, with PBMs earning an administrative fee and making money on mail-order while forgoing a margin on drugs dispensed at retail.

PBMs are offering clients better discounts on generic drugs, said David Dross, partner and managed pharmacy practice leader at the Marsh & McLennan Cos. (MMC) Mercer LLC consulting business. Dross added that he has seen some bigger discounts for brand-name drugs as well, although underlying costs on branded drugs generally are increasing.

PBM managements have indicated pricing trends are rational, even though a Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. employer survey earlier this summer suggested a “notable deterioration of the PBM pricing environment,” with more than 40% of respondents noting a decrease in prices.

“Our pricing disciplines have been applied consistently for the past several years as well as going forward to 2011,” Medco spokesman Lowell Weiner said. Medco CEO David Snow Jr., who earlier this year noted instances of aggressive pricing, said last month that he was feeling more comfortable with the competitive marketplace.

Meanwhile, Express Scripts CEO George Paz has said that while “pricing has always been extremely aggressive,” the company uses clinical tools to help drive out costs.

Per Lofberg, who heads CVS Caremark’s PBM operation, recently told analysts that pricing is “intensely competitive like it always … has been, but it’s fundamentally very similar to the past. When plans go out for bid, they are always looking for better economics, and that’s a very important part of the negotiations.”

John Malley, eastern region pharmacy practice leader at Towers Watson & Co. (TW), said PBM pricing isn’t irrational, although it is changing in structure so that players offer better pricing without necessarily losing margin.

“So more simply put, the level of discounts off prescription drugs is not that different between last year and this year, but the overall value of this year’s deals, all in, is better than last year” for the clients, Malley said.

Pricing will become less important a competitive factor as more drugs go generic, Mercer’s Dross predicted. PBMs already are trying to differentiate their clinical offerings, which aim to close gaps in care, customize prescriptions based on genetics and improve compliance to produce better health outcomes and lower costs.

Drug Makers Raised Prices Sharply in ’09

April 20, 2010 By: Nadia Category: Medtipster, Prescription News

www.Medtipster.com Source: Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2010

Drug companies sharply raised prices last year, ahead of increased rebates they must pay to Medicaid and other expenses tied to the federal health overhaul passed last month.

Prices for brand-name pharmaceuticals rose 9.1% last year, the biggest increase in at least a decade, according to pharmacy-benefit manager Express Scripts Inc., which included the recent number in its annual drug-trend report. The boost for specialty drugs, a category that is largely biotech products, was even sharper: 11.5%. In 2008, the price rise had been 7.4% for traditional pharmaceuticals, and 9.4% for specialty drugs.

Some individual drugs saw double-digit increases in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, including 12.1% on Zetia, a cholesterol drug from Merck & Co., and 13.6% for Cymbalta, an antidepressant from Eli Lilly & Co., according to data from Credit Suisse. The firm, which tracks the pricing of brand-name drugs made by the biggest U.S. manufacturers, found wholesale prices went up 7.8% in the first quarter, compared with a year earlier.

The increases were “exacerbated by the health-care reform debate,” said Steve Miller, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Express Scripts, although drug makers disputed that notion.

An Eli Lilly spokesman said its pricing policies last year weren’t affected by the health bill, and such decisions take into account benefits for patients as well as “marketplace conditions and recovery of our R&D costs.”

But Lilly did caution shareholders Monday that rebates to Medicaid, as well as other provisions in the law, would lower its 2010 revenue by $350 million to $400 million, and 2011 revenue by $600 million to $700 million.

A Merck spokesman said its “price adjustments are independent of health-care reform,” and are instead driven by an approach that aims to “ensure patient access and enable Merck to invest in research and development.”

Zetia’s pricing for most of last year was controlled by an independent joint venture involving Merck and Schering-Plough Corp., which are now merged, the company added. Both Merck and Lilly said the pricing numbers didn’t reflect the effects of rebates and discounts granted to many health-care payers.

The health law will also require the drug industry to knock off half the price paid by Medicare beneficiaries in their “doughnut hole” coverage gap starting in 2011, among other expenses, though the pharmaceutical companies will also benefit from an influx of newly insured consumers that will kick in later.

The effects of the price increases on overall drug spending are being tempered by the availability and aggressive promotion of cheaper generic alternatives, among other factors.

In its report, which reflects the drug benefits it administers for corporate clients, Express Scripts also said drug spending went up only 6.4% in 2009, slightly more than last year but lower than five years earlier.

Indeed, a report this month from IMS Health said that the number of prescriptions dispensed for generic drugs rose 5.9% last year, but those for branded drugs fell 7.6%.

Overall spending on prescription drugs rose just 5.1% according to IMS, which looks at different data than Express Scripts.

Another reason for price increases is probably that insurers, employers and pharmacy-benefit managers have become “much more difficult gatekeepers,” said Credit Suisse analyst Catherine Arnold. Discounts and rebates used to promote branded drugs precipitate price increases to offset those marketing costs.

Also, as drugs go generic, companies mark up the prices of the brand-name versions, assuming that patients who stick with those “are the people for whom price doesn’t matter,” said Mark McClellan, who formerly oversaw the Medicare and Medicaid programs for the Bush administration and is now at the Brookings Institution.

Express Scripts, which is based in St. Louis and has 36 million people in its commercial client group, said the actual drug-spending increase — as opposed to the price markup — was 4.8% for traditional pharmaceuticals, to $800.23 per member per year, and 19.5% in specialty drugs, to $111.10 per member per year.

Big increases in spending occurred in several areas, including diabetes, driven by the growing number of people diagnosed with the disease, and antiviral drugs, due to flu concerns.

The pharmacy-benefit manager said its clients were able to help keep the increase in check through use of generics and other moves. But it argued that, across the entire U.S. market, there could be significantly greater health-care savings tied to how drugs are taken.

The company estimated the savings at $163 billion a year, which could be achieved with greater use of generics and better adherence by patients prescribed drugs, both tactics that Express Scripts pitches to clients as among services it can provide.

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