On May 23, 2019, CMS issued a final rule regarding Part D expenses and the Agency’s ongoing efforts in lowering the cost of prescription medications for its beneficiaries.
Per the rule, CMS reports that this final rule amends the Medicare Advantage (MA) program (Part C) regulations and Prescription Drug Benefit program (Part D) regulations to support health and drug plans’ negotiation for lower drug prices and reduce out-of-pocket costs for Part C and D enrollees.
CMS then goes on to outline the major provisions of the new rule. Per the announcement there are 5 provisions that CMS plans to implement. They are as follows:
1.) Providing Plan Flexibility to Manage Protected Classes:
According to CMS, except in limited circumstances, current Part D policy requires Part D sponsors to include on their formularies all Part D drugs in six categories or classes: (1) antidepressants; (2) antipsychotics; (3) anticonvulsants; (4) immunosuppressants for treatment of transplant rejection; (5) antiretrovirals; and (6) antineoplastics. The new proposed rule provides for three exceptions to this protected class policy that would allow Part D sponsors to: (1) implement broader use of prior authorization (PA) and step therapy (ST) for protected class Part D drugs, including to determine use for protected class indications; (2) exclude a protected class Part D drug from a formulary if the drug represents only a new formulation of an existing single-source drug or biological product, and (3) exclude a protected class Part D drug from a formulary if the price of the drug increased beyond a certain threshold. This rule is purported to be effective as of January 1, 2020.
2.) Updates to Part D E-Prescribing Standards
The requirement for this provision is that Part D plan sponsors implement an electronic real-time benefit tool (RTBT) capable of integrating with at least one prescriber’s electronic prescribing (eRx) system or electronic health record (EHR). According to CMS, this would support interactive real-time standards whenever feasible, and for standards that improve the cost-effectiveness of the Part D benefit. This provision would not go into effect until January 1, 2021.
3.) Medicare Advantage and Step Therapy for Part B Drugs
CMS indicated that in this final rule, CMS is reaffirming Medicare Advantage plans’ existing authority to implement appropriate utilization management and prior authorization programs (meaning policies and procedures) for managing Part B drugs to reduce costs for both beneficiaries and the Medicare program.
4.) Part D Explanation of Benefit
With this new rule, CMS is requiring the inclusion of negotiated drug pricing information and lower cost alternatives in the Part D Explanation of Benefits beginning on 01/01/2021. CMS cites its ongoing goal to be more transparent for beneficiaries’ which hypothetically would in turn create more competition and therefore lower costs.
5.) Prohibition Against Gag Clauses in Pharmacy Contracts
This rule also implements the statutory requirement that restricts Part D sponsors from prohibiting or penalizing a pharmacy from disclosing a lower cash price to an enrollee. Again, this is purported to help lower out-of-pocket costs of prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries by helping inform them about lower cost alternatives.
In summary, CMS has been actively working towards their agenda of lowering prescription medicines for beneficiaries. However, considering that these rules are set to be enacted in 2020 and some even in 2021, it may be some time before beneficiaries see the benefits of such provisions.
To read the notification in its entirety, the link can be found here.