New Disclosures Show CVS and Express Scripts Can Survive in a World Without Rebates. Are Plan Sponsors Now the Real Barrier to Disruption?

Last week, the two largest pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs)—CVS Health and Express Scripts—both stated that rebates now account for a small part of their profits. The companies therefore strongly implied that they could survive in a world in which PBMs did not participate in the flow of funds from a brand-name manufacturer to a plan sponsor. Below, I unpack the new disclosures, which move us materially closer to a new model. Hmm. The two biggest PBMs and at least one major manufacturer (Pfizer) have now implied a willingness to change. So what’s to stop massive drug channel disruption? CVS Health … Continue reading New Disclosures Show CVS and Express Scripts Can Survive in a World Without Rebates. Are Plan Sponsors Now the Real Barrier to Disruption?

A System Without Rebates: The Drug Channels Negotiated Discounts Model

Are you ready for a world without rebates? In June, Alex Azar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), summarized his long-range vision for a new drug channel system: “[W]e may need to move toward a system without rebates, where PBMs and drug companies just negotiate fixed-price contracts. Such a system’s incentives, detached from artificial list prices, would likely serve patients far better.” (emphasis added) No one has yet explained what a system without rebates would look like. To facilitate the discussion, I have sketched out a possible new drug channel system that would: Respond to the … Continue reading A System Without Rebates: The Drug Channels Negotiated Discounts Model

Building a New Drug Wholesaler Compensation Model: What Happens as Brand Inflation Slows?

Today, drug wholesalers make money from distribution in a straightforward manner: Buy low, sell high, collect early, and pay late. They also profit as brand-name list prices increase. Like other drug channel intermediaries, wholesalers have warped incentives to prefer ever-higher list prices. But what happens to their business model if list prices don’t rise—or even if they decrease? This question is no longer theoretical. Many drug makers—Pfizer, Roche, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Sanofi, and others—have announced an intention not to raise list prices for 2018 or have rescinded planned increases. Merck has gone further and become the first major manufacturer to … Continue reading Building a New Drug Wholesaler Compensation Model: What Happens as Brand Inflation Slows?

Our Exclusive Analysis: Nearly One in Three U.S. Pharmacies Is a 340B Contract Pharmacy; Five Chains Dominate

Pharmacies continue to profit from the 340B Drug Pricing Program’s explosive growth. Our latest exclusive analysis finds that about 21,600 pharmacy locations now act as contract pharmacies for the hospitals and other healthcare providers that participate in the 340B program. The total number of locations has grown by 9% over the past 12 months. The five largest retail pharmacy chains—Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Albertsons/Rite Aid, and Kroger—account for two-thirds of 340B contract pharmacy locations. This growth is unsurprising. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has now documented the tremendous profits available to 340B contract pharmacies. See GAO Confirms It: 340B Hospitals … Continue reading Our Exclusive Analysis: Nearly One in Three U.S. Pharmacies Is a 340B Contract Pharmacy; Five Chains Dominate

GAO Confirms It: 340B Hospitals and Contract Pharmacies Profit from Low-Income, Uninsured Patients

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just issued a must-read report on the 340B Drug Pricing Program: Federal Oversight of Compliance at 340B Contract Pharmacies Needs Improvement. Some of the report’s most startling revelations confirm our worst fears about how hospitals and pharmacies are abusing the 340B program. Here are two especially dispiriting findings from the GAO’s analysis: 16 out of 28 hospitals (57%!) did not provide discounted drug prices to low-income, uninsured patients who filled prescriptions at the hospital’s 340B contract pharmacy. Seriously?!? Many 340B contract pharmacies can earn excessive profit margins of 15% to 20% from … Continue reading GAO Confirms It: 340B Hospitals and Contract Pharmacies Profit from Low-Income, Uninsured Patients

Democrats and Republicans Agree: Drug Channels Is Awesome!

I can’t recall any period in my life when our country has been so divided and polarized. So just in time for our nation’s birthday, I’m happy to report some good news. When it comes to healthcare analysis, both Republicans and Democrats can agree on one thing: Drug Channels is the go-to source! Each political party’s major drug pricing policy document draws prominently from our research and writing. See below for the patriotic details of this historic bipartisan validation. Through the Drug Channels Institute, I strive to provide you with fact-based and balanced coverage. I’m proud that your friendly neighborhood … Continue reading Democrats and Republicans Agree: Drug Channels Is Awesome!

The Trump Drug Pricing Plan: Short Term Reprieve, Long Term Disruption

Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) released American Patients First, a report billed as “The Trump Administration Blueprint to Lower Drug Prices and Reduce Out-of-Pocket Costs.” This administration’s blueprint offers a thoughtful diagnosis of U.S. drug pricing along with the unintended consequences and warped incentives of our drug channel system. The report also proposes a very long list of more than 50 regulatory and legislative fixes. It therefore doesn’t translate to quick action or simple sound bites. Many people are discounting the plan as no big deal and therefore underestimating how radically the system could … Continue reading The Trump Drug Pricing Plan: Short Term Reprieve, Long Term Disruption

EXCLUSIVE: The 340B Program Reached $19.3 Billion in 2017—As Hospitals’ Charity Care Has Dropped

The 340B Drug Pricing Program continues to expand at double-digit rates. Our research reveals that these discounted sales hit a record $19.3 billion in 2017. What’s more, we found that since 2014, purchases under the program have grown at an average rate of 29% per year. By comparison, manufacturers’ net drug sales grew at an average rate of less than 5% over the same period. Consequently, the 340B program has grown to account for at least 6% of the total U.S. drug market. Here’s another uncomfortable fact: Nearly all of the billions in 340B discounts have accrued to hospitals. Yet … Continue reading EXCLUSIVE: The 340B Program Reached $19.3 Billion in 2017—As Hospitals’ Charity Care Has Dropped

The Mysteries of Pass-Through Status: Why Medicare and Seniors Are Now Paying More for Lower-Cost Biosimilars at Hospitals

An unanticipated combination of government policy changes has led to a truly bizarre circumstance: The Medicare program and individual Medicare patients are paying more for lower-cost biosimilars. Further, hospitals are earning windfall profits from these lower-cost biosimilars, though physician offices can’t access the same financial benefits. Sound bonkers? You bet. To understand this strange turn of events, I delve into the vagaries of Medicare Part B reimbursement and the recently implemented outpatient prospective payment system (OPPS) rule for drugs acquired under the 340B Drug Pricing Program. As I explain below, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently made … Continue reading The Mysteries of Pass-Through Status: Why Medicare and Seniors Are Now Paying More for Lower-Cost Biosimilars at Hospitals

UnitedHealthcare’s Point-of-Sale Rebate Announcement: What’s Next?

Did I just hear the gross-to-net bubble deflate a little bit? This week, UnitedHealthcare announced that it would provide point-of-sale (POS) rebates to 7 million people enrolled in its fully insured commercial group benefit plans. Click here to read the press release. UnitedHealthcare’s action is a big win for patients, though not (yet) a black swan event for pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). As I explain below, it’s a small but significant move that will trigger new questions about drug prices, patients’ out-of-pocket costs, and channel economics. I’m sure that SpongeBob SquarePants, honorary mascot of the gross-to-net bubble, is … Continue reading UnitedHealthcare’s Point-of-Sale Rebate Announcement: What’s Next?