U.S. pays nearly twice as much for drugs compared to other countries

A recent HHS analysis revealed that prices charged by drug manufacturers to wholesalers and distributors in the United States are 1.8 times higher than in other countries for the top drugs by total expenditures separately paid under Medicare Part B. U.S. prices were higher for most of the drugs included in the analysis, and U.S. prices were more likely to be the highest prices paid among the countries in the study (ASPE Report, October 25, 2018).

Medicare Part B

Drugs typically administered to patients by healthcare practitioners are covered and paid under Medicare Part B, which is part of the fee for service traditional Medicare benefit. Under Part B, providers buy and bill for these drugs. Medicare pays suppliers and providers based upon the Average Sales Price (ASP) for each product, as reported by manufacturers to CMS. Physician offices that buy and bill Part B drugs are paid 106 percent of the drug’s ASP, and hospitals are reimbursed either at 106 percent or 77.5 percent of ASP, depending on the hospital outpatient department’s participation in a safety net drug pricing program. Spending on Part B drugs has doubled since 2006.

The analysis and results

Data was compiled on the top drugs based on total Medicare reimbursement to either physician offices, hospital outpatient departments, or overall under Medicare Part B in 2016. Countries included in the analysis included: the United States, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The analysis identified thirty two Medicare Part B drugs among the top twenty drugs in spending for each setting. These thirty two drugs accounted for $18 billion in spending, out of a total $27 billion on Part B drugs across these settings. The main analysis reports on twenty seven Part B Drugs.

Across the twenty seven drugs in the study, the U.S. ex-manufacturer prices were 1.8 times than average international ex-manufacturer price. There was not any one country that consistently had the highest or lowest prices compared to the U.S. for twenty of the drug products; U.S. prices exceeded the average international price by more than twenty percent. In addition, for nineteen of the twenty seven products the U.S. prices were higher than any other country. Excluding the U.S., Germany and Canada had the highest prices for six drugs and Japan for five drugs. France and the United Kingdom had the lowest prices for four drug products. Japan, Sweden and Slovakia had the lowest prices for three drug products each. Finally, the analysis calculated that the Medicare program and its beneficiaries spent an additional $8.1 billion (47 percent more) on these twenty seven products that it would have, if payments based upon ASP were scaled by the international price ratios.

Overall, prices and reimbursement rates for Part B drugs are significantly higher for the U.S. providers than purchasers outside the U.S., except for a few outlier cases. The amount by which U.S. prices exceeded those of international comparators varied significantly by product, and there was no clear pattern as to which countries were consistently paying lower prices. The analysis suggests that Medicare Part B could achieve significant savings if prices in the U.S. were similar to those of other large market based economies.

Kusserow on Compliance: OIG toolkit for calculating opioid levels and opioid misuse risk

The OIG toolkit provides detailed steps for using prescription drug claims data to analyze patients’ opioid levels and identify certain patients who are at risk of opioid misuse or overdose. It is based on the methodology that OIG has developed in its extensive work on opioids. This provides technical information to support the OIG’s public and private sector partners, such as Medicare Part D plan sponsors, private health plans, and State Medicaid Fraud Control Units. It is intended to assist OIG partners with analyzing their own prescription drug claims data to help combat the opioid crisis. It provides steps to calculate patients’ average daily morphine equivalent dose (MED), which converts various prescription opioids and strengths into one standard value. This measure is also called morphine milligram equivalent (MME). The toolkit includes a detailed description of the analysis and programming code that can be applied to the user’s own data. The resulting data can be used to identify certain patients who are at risk of opioid misuse or overdose. Users can also modify the code to meet their needs, such as identifying patients at other levels of risk. The toolkit has three chapters:

 

(1) Analysis of Prescription Drug Claims Data,

(2) Explanation of the Programming Code To Conduct the Analysis, and

(3) Programming Code.

 

Opioid abuse and overdose deaths are at epidemic levels in the United States. As one of the lead federal agencies fighting health care fraud, the OIG is committed to supporting public and private partners in its efforts to curb the opioid epidemic. These partners include Medicare Part D plan sponsors, other private health plans, State Medicaid Fraud Control Units, State prescription drug monitoring programs, and researchers. They can use this toolkit to analyze claims data for prescription drugs and identify patients who may be misusing or abusing prescription opioids and may be in need of additional case management or other follow-up. This toolkit can also be used to answer research questions about opioid utilization.

Copies can be obtained by contacting the Office of Public Affairs at Public.Affairs@oig.hhs.gov.

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

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Copyright © 2018 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Draft guidance seeks to make drug labels clear, concise, more consistent

In an effort to assist applicants in writing the Indications and Usage section of labeling for human prescription drug and biological products, the FDA issued a new draft guidance. The FDA’s intent is to make information in prescription drug labeling easier for health care practitioners to access, read, and use. The goal of the guidance is to help ensure that the labeling is clear, concise, useful, and informative and, to the extent possible, consistent in content and format within and across drug and therapeutic classes (Notice, 83 FR 31759, July 9, 2018).

Indications

The Indications and Usage section should clearly communicate the scope of the approved indication, including the population to which the determination of safety and effectiveness is applicable. The guidance includes information on how and when evidence may support approval of an indication that is broader or narrower in scope than the precise population studied.

The indication should begin “Drug X is indicated” and be followed by the disease, condition, or manifestation of the cease or condition being treated, prevented, mitigated, cured, or diagnosed, and when applicable other information necessary to describe the approved indication. The other information may include selected patient subgroups or disease sub populations for whom the drug is approved, adjunctive or concomitant therapy or therapeutic modalities to use before initiation drug therapy, or specific tests needed to select patients in whom to use the drug.

Limitations of use

Limitations of use should be presented separately from the indication and should only be included when the awareness of such information is important for practitioners to ensure the safe and effective use of the drug. Limitations of Use are appropriate for drugs for which there is reasonable concern or uncertainty about effectiveness or safety in a certain clinical situation, drugs approved without evidence of benefits known to occur with other drugs in the same class, or drugs with dose, duration, or long-term use considerations.

Language

Certain products have statutory or regulatory required or recommended language for the Indications and Usage section. The guidance includes preferred wording and wording to generally avoid. For example, the guidance explains why it is better to use the phrase “reduce the risk” or “reduce incidence of” rather than using “prevent” in the indication. It also discusses when the terms “only” and “also indicated” should be avoided. Finally, product should be identified by the proprietary name or trade name if it has one, and other information such as the dosage form, and route of administration should not be included in the indication.

 

Kusserow on Compliance: OIG testimony highlights opioid crisis actions

Gary Cantrell, HHS OIG Deputy Inspector General for Investigations, testified before a Senate Special Committee hearing on enforcement activities currently underway to combat the opioid crisis. He provided key policy recommendations to address the crisis. Opioid fraud encompasses a broad range of criminal activity from prescription drug diversion to addiction treatment schemes. Many of these schemes can be elaborate, involving complicit patients or beneficiaries who are not ill, kickbacks, medical identity theft, money-laundering, and other criminal enterprises. Some schemes also involve multiple co-conspirators and health care professionals such as physicians, nonphysician providers, and pharmacists. These investigations can be complex and often involve the use of informants, undercover operations, and surveillance. The OIG provided critical support in the establishment of the new Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit established by the Attorney General to focus on opioid-related health care fraud. This collaboration led to the selection of 12 judicial districts around the country where OIG has assigned Special Agents to support 12 prosecutors identified by the DOJ to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud cases.

The OIG collaborates with a number of HHS agencies, including CMS and the Agency for Community Living (ACL), on fraud- and opioid-related initiatives to educate providers, the industry, and beneficiaries on the role each one plays in the prevention of prescription drug and opioid-related fraud and abuse. The OIG is engaging ACL’s Senior Medicare Patrol and State Health Insurance Assistance Program through presentations on the prevention of fraud, waste, and abuse. The OIG is also working with the DEA to provide anti-fraud education at numerous Pharmacy Diversion Awareness Conferences held across the United States, which are designed to assist pharmacy personnel with identifying and preventing diversion activity.

OIG currently has numerous opioid-related audits or evaluations underway that address:

  • questionable prescribing patterns in Medicaid;
  • Medicaid program integrity controls;
  • Medicare program integrity controls in the prescription drug benefit;
  • CDC’s oversight of grants to support programs to monitor prescription drugs;
  • FDA’s oversight of opioid prescribing through its risk management programs;
  • SAMHSA’s oversight of opioid treatment program grants;
  • beneficiary access to buprenorphine medication-assisted treatment; and
  • opioid prescribing practices in the Indian Health

In the OIG’s data brief entitled Opioids in Medicare Part D: Concerns about Extreme Use and Questionable Prescribing and other reports, the OIG noted the following:

  • 60,000 individuals died from drug overdoses in 2016, of which two-thirds involved opioids
  • The CDC reported 75 percent new heroin users having abused prescription opioids prior to using heroin.
  • One in three Medicare Part D beneficiaries received opioids (14.4 million beneficiaries)
  • 500,000 beneficiaries received high amounts of opioids
  • 90,000 beneficiaries were at serious risk of opioid misuse or overdose for receiving extreme amounts of opioids and those who appeared to be “doctor shopping”
  • 70,000 beneficiaries received extreme amounts of opioids
  • 22,308 beneficiaries appeared to be doctor shopping for more opiods
  • 400 prescribers had questionable opioid prescribing for beneficiaries at serious risk
  • Prescribers with questionable billing wrote 265,260 opioid prescriptions for beneficiaries at serious risk at a cost under Part D for $66.5 million

The OIG is planning to release a new data brief on opioid use in Medicare Part D as a follow-up to a previous data brief, Opioids in Medicare Part D: Concerns About Extreme Use and Questionable Prescribing (OEI-02-17-00250) to: (1) determine the extent to which Medicare Part D beneficiaries received high amounts of opioids; (2) identify beneficiaries who are at serious risk of opioid misuse or overdose; and (3) identify prescribers with questionable opioid prescribing patterns for these beneficiaries.  In conjunction with this, they will release an analysis toolkit to assist the public and private sector in analyzing prescription drug claims data.  It will provide steps for using prescription drug data to analyze patients’ opioid levels and identify those at risk of opioid misuse or overdose or who appear to be doctor shopping.

The OIG has made numerous pending recommendations to improve HHS programs to better protect beneficiaries at risk of opioid misuse or overdose, including:

  • Restrict certain beneficiaries to a limited number of pharmacies or prescribers, implementing the new lock-in authority.
  • Require plan sponsors to report to CMS all potential fraud and abuse and any corrective actions they take in response; and provide guidance on how Part D sponsors identify and investigate these matters.
  • Improve Medicaid CMS does not have complete and accurate data needed to effectively oversee the Medicaid program, including opioids. OIG call for CMS to establish a deadline for when national T-MSIS data will be available for multistate program integrity efforts.

 

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

Copyright © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.