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70% of Employers Do Not Know What They are Spending on Specialty Pharmacy

October 03, 2011 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medtipster, Prescription News, Prescription Savings

www.Medtipster.com Source: PRNewswire, 9/29/2011, Midwest Business Group on Health (MBGH)

Few employers have a thorough understanding of specialty pharmacy benefits, and only a fraction are of them are aggressively managing what is becoming one of the fastest-growing areas of health care spending, a new survey shows.

A national survey released Sept. 29 by the nonprofit Midwest Business Group on Health in Chicago, one of the nation’s largest business coalitions, found:

Survey Findings

  • 70% do not know how much their company was spending on specialty drugs
  • 25% of employers have little or no understanding of specialty pharmacy and
  • 53% have only a moderate understanding.
  • 30% indicated that they did not know how much their total specialty pharmacy claim costs had increased during the past three to five years.

“In addition to the uncertainty and challenges that health reform and the economy are placing on employers, health plans and pharmacy benefit managers, the real driver of drug cost trend growth for employers lies in biologics and specialty pharmacy,” said Cheryl Larson, MBGH Vice President, in a statement. “Our research confirms there is a broad lack of awareness and specific knowledge about benefit design related to specialty pharmacy that illustrates key gaps that need to be addressed.”

The objectives of the survey were to identify and assess the level of knowledge and benefit design gaps of employer plan sponsors in the area of specialty medications and biologic products used to treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis. These drugs often require special approvals for their use, instructions on dosing and side effects, and appropriate storage and distribution.

The proportion of employers’ pharmacy benefit expenditures attributable to 

  • Specialty drugs grew by 17.4% in 2010, the fastest pace since 2004, according to Medco Health Solutions Inc.’s 2011 Drug Trend Report, which found that
  • Specialty drugs represented 16.3% of total health benefit costs.

How survey was conducted

The survey was conducted by MBGH in July 2011 with guidance from Randy Vogenberg, principal at the Institute for Integrated Health Inc., a Baltimore-based consultant that provides integrated pharmaceutical benefits consulting and education to self-insured employers and business coalitions.

Of the 120 employers responding to the survey,

  • 69% were self-insured,
  • 19% were fully insured, and
  • 13% offered a combination of self-insured and fully insured benefit plans.
  • Employers responding ranged in size from 500 to 25,000 employees.

About Midwest Business Group on Health (MBGH)

The Chicago based Midwest Business Group on Health (MBGH) was founded in January 1980 by a small group of large Midwest employers to help employers and their population obtain more value from their health care benefit dollars.

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.

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