The Official Medtipster Blog

have your healthcare and afford it, too
Subscribe

Employers Grapple With Birth Control Mandate

May 09, 2012 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medicine Advice, Medtipster, Prescription News

www.Medtipster.com Source: Employee Benefit News, 5/1/12 – By, Lisa V. Gillespie

Federal contraception coverage mandate raises ire among insurers, may raise premiums for health plan members

The intersection between religion and business is a heated one, with the most recent flare-up sparked by a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that mandates employers cover the cost of contraception in their health plans. Although the Obama administration exempted houses of worship from the rule, it still requires coverage be made available to employees of religiously affiliated organizations such as hospitals and universities.

The administration has said insurers should ultimately make up any initial costs by avoiding expenses associated with unintended pregnancies. But a survey of 15 large health plans shows they are dubious of such savings.

Asked what impact the requirement will have on their costs in the year to two years after it goes into effect, 40% of insurers said they expect the requirement will increase costs through higher pharmacy expenses.

The survey of pharmacy directors at the health plans was conducted by Reimbursement Intelligence, which advises pharmaceutical, medical device and other companies on reimbursement issues. The firm did not name the insurance plans it surveyed.

Of the health plans, 20% said costs would even out because they already budget for contraception in the premium, 6.7% said it would drive up pharmacy costs but decrease medical costs, while 33.3% weren’t sure. None said it would lead to net savings.

“[Insurers] think it will raise pharmacy costs and won’t lower medical costs,” says Rhonda Greenapple, chief executive officer of Reimbursement Intelligence. “The idea that preventive care is going to reduce overall health care costs, they don’t buy it.”

In addition to health insurance companies, lawmakers also have questioned the precedent set by Obama’s plan that would force insurers to pay for coverage with no clear way of recouping the expense. “The idea that insurance companies are going to provide free coverage for items contained in the administration’s order reflects a misunderstanding of the business of insurance,” says Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.). “Under its ‘accommodation,’ the religious employer continues to pay premiums that contribute to the revenues of the insurers. The money paid by religious employers for what will inevitably be higher premiums thereby frees up insurer funds to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception in violation of their strongly held beliefs.”

The guidelines require insurers to do away with copayments on coverage of preventive care services for women in all new plans beginning in August. A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation in February showed nearly two-thirds of Americans favor the policy requiring birth control coverage for female employees, including clear majorities of Roman Catholic, Protestant evangelical and independent voters. Sixty-three percent of Americans overall supported it, according to the data.

But Catholic leaders, Protestant evangelical groups, Republicans and other social conservatives rejected the compromise, saying it still violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution and would cause economic hardship for self-insured institutions. The controversy has spawned a rancorous debate in Congress as well as a handful of Catholic lawsuits, including a federal suit in Nebraska joined by seven U.S. states.

Employer response

Some employers have voiced support for the rule, including one reader of EBN’s blog Employee Benefit Views, who said his/her employee population consists mainly of lower-income employees “who make $10 to $15 an hour who may not use birth control – not because of religious reasons, but because they cannot afford the cost of the birth control and keep a roof over their heads. I work for a self-funded employer, and this would create additional costs for us. However, these could possibly be off-set with the savings from births, disability leaves and the like.”

That cost savings may be attractive to employers constantly looking to reduce health care cost burdens. “I understand the issue of ‘religious freedom’ here, but just because this coverage is offered by your insurance company, does not mean that you have to use it,” wrote another EBV commenter. “I would think that each adult can make their own choice on whether or not this is a benefit [they] want to use. But the coverage is there, then, for those individuals who want and need that coverage. Better than the alternative of unwanted pregnancies, abortions and the like.”

Other readers likened the coverage of contraception to coverage to treat chronic conditions. “I do understand the perspective of the employer not wanting to pay for a benefit they do not condone,” a third EBV commenter wrote. “I don’t condone many of the activities that lead to diabetes or heart disease. But I still have to pay for the people that have those habits.”

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.

Get Adobe Flash playerPlugin by wpburn.com wordpress themes