CMS cut to 340B spending overshadows OPPS update; associations threaten suit

Reimbursement to outpatient departments in 2018 will increase $5.8 billion compared to 2017, according to the hospital outpatient prospective payment (OPPS) and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) PPS Final rule for calendar year 2018. However, CMS will drastically reduce reimbursement for drugs under the 340B Program, much to the ire of providers and associations, which have already threatened to sue. (Final rule, 82 FR 52356, November 13, 2017).

340B program 

In calendar year (CY) 2018, CMS will change its reimbursement for separately payable drugs and biologics (other than pass-through drugs and vaccines) acquired through the 340B Program from average sales price (ASP) plus 6 percent to ASP minus 22.5 percent. Rural sole community hospitals, PPS-exempt cancer hospitals, and children’s hospitals will be exempt from this policy for CY 2018. This change, said CMS, addresses recent trends of increasing drug prices and will save beneficiaries about $320 million on copayments in 2018. CMS will offset the projected $1.6 billion decrease in drug payments by redistributing this amount for non-drug items and services across the OPPS.

The 340B Program (see 42 U.S.C. §256b, as expanded by Secs. 2501, 7101, and 7102 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148)), has been controversial, as critics have accused hospitals of abusing the program (see Participants in drug delivery system testify to impacts on patient prescription drug costs, Health Law Daily, October 18, 2017). However, the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and America’s Essential Hospitals criticized the cut to 340B spending as contrary to Congressional intent and a threat to safety net hospitals (see, e.g., Testimonies focus on benefits of 340B Drug Program, Health Law Daily, October 12, 2017).

Further, said the AHA, the policy “does nothing to address the stated goal of reducing the cost of pharmaceuticals” and could cause increases in beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket costs for non-drug Part B benefits. American’s Essential Hospitals predicted that, “given their fragile financial position, essential hospitals will not weather this policy’s 27 percent cut to Part B drug payments without scaling back services or jobs.” The three associations plan legal action to stop CMS from cutting 340B spending.

OPPS update

For CY 2018, CMS increased the payment rates under the OPPS by an increase factor of 1.35 percent, which is based on the hospital inpatient market basket percentage increase of 2.7 percent, minus the multifactor productivity adjustment of 0.6 percentage point, and minus a 0.75 percentage point adjustment required by Sec. 3401(i) of the ACA.

Direct supervision requirement

42 C.F.R. Sec. 410.27(a)(1) requires therapeutic outpatient services to be furnished under the direct supervision of a physician or nonphysician practitioner. Sec. 16004 of the 21st Century Cures Act (P.L. 114-255) delayed enforcement through 2016 of this requirement for therapeutic hospital services provided by critical access hospitals and small rural hospitals with fewer than 100 beds. The CY 2018 OPPS Final rule continues the nonenforcement of the direct supervision requirement for hospital outpatient therapeutic services for CAHs and small rural hospitals having 100 or fewer beds for CYs 2018 and 2019.

Inpatient only list

Services that typically would be paid in an inpatient setting will not be paid by Medicare under the OPPS (see 42 C.F.R. Sec. 419.22(n)). These are services that require inpatient care because of (1) the invasive nature of the procedure; (2) the need for at least 24 hours of postoperative recovery time or monitoring before the patient can be safely discharged; or (3) the underlying physical condition of the patient. Effective for CY 2018, CMS will remove total knee arthroplasty (TKA) and five other procedures from the inpatient only list and will add one procedure to the list. CMS is also prohibiting recovery audit contractors from reviewing TKA procedures for “patient status” for two years to give providers time to gain experience with the procedure in the outpatient setting.

Packaging

CMS will conditionally package low-cost drug administration services assigned to Ambulatory Payment Classifications (APCs) 5691 and 5692 effective January 1, 2018. In addition, CMS assigned skin substitutes with a geometric mean unit cost (MUC) or a per day cost (PDC) that exceeds either the MUC threshold or the PDC threshold to the high cost group. For CY 2018, a skin substitute product that was assigned to the high cost group for CY 2017, but does not exceed either the CY 2018 MUC or PDC threshold for CY 2018, will be assigned to the high cost group for CY 2018.

OQR program

CMS removed six measures from the Outpatient Quality Reporting (OQR) program beginning with the CY 2020 payment determination (CY 2018 reporting). CMS stated that the removal of these measures results in a burden reduction of 457,490 hours and a saving of $16.7 million in CY 2020 for hospitals. CMS also delayed the mandatory implementation of the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Outpatient and Ambulatory Surgery Survey under the Hospital OQR Program beginning with the CY 2018 data collection.

Laboratory tests

A new exception to the laboratory date of service policy will generally permit laboratories to bill Medicare directly for advanced diagnostic laboratory tests and molecular pathology tests excluded from OPPS packaging policy if the specimen was collected from a hospital outpatient during a hospital outpatient encounter and the test was performed following the patient’s discharge from the hospital outpatient department.

ASCs

For CY 2018, payments to ASCs will increase 1.2 percent, or $4.62 billion, based on a projected consumer price index of 1.7 percent minus a multifactor productivity adjustment required by the ACA of 0.5 percentage point. For CY 2018, CMS added three procedures to the ASC covered procedures list. In addition, CMS removed three measures from ASC Quality Reporting program for the CY 2019 payment determination and later and added two measures of hospital events following specified surgical procedures for the CY 2022 payment determinations and later (see Approximate 2 percent increase in OPPS, ASC payments proposed for 2018; cuts to 340B drug discount pay, Health Law Daily, July 20, 2017).

Testimonies focus on benefits of 340B Drug Program

Various testimonies were provided in a hearing before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce examining how covered entities are using the 340B Drug Pricing Program. The hearing discussed various issues, including how covered entities (1) track and use savings from the 340B Program; (2) use contract pharmacy arrangements; (3) use child sites; and (4) interact with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). In addition, the hearing focused on the requirements different types of covered entities must meet in order to receive reduced prices through the 340B Program.

Neither the 340B statute nor HRSA guidance, however, explain how 340B entities must use savings from the program. There is no requirement that the discounted 340B price be passed on to uninsured patients who seek treatment at 340B entities. As a result, the 340B entity will acquire the drug at a discounted price, but the uninsured patient may pay the full list price for the drug. While some 340B entities pass savings on to uninsured patients, it has been reported that some use savings from the 340B Program to pay for the operations of the covered entity, such as marketing. The House Committee convened the hearing to examine current practices and usage of savings generated by the 340B Program.

Background

Established by Congress, the 340B Drug Pricing Program mandates that drug manufacturers provide outpatient drugs to eligible health care organizations, also known as covered entities, at reduced prices to remain eligible for reimbursements through entitlement programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. Covered entities are eligible to receive discounts on outpatient prescription drugs from participating manufacturers and report saving between25 and 50 percent of the average wholesale price for covered outpatient drugs.

Covered entities do not receive discounts on inpatient drugs under the 340B Program. Covered entities can realize substantial savings on outpatient drugs through 340B price discounts and generate 340B revenue by selling 340B drugs at a higher price than the discounted price at which the covered entity obtained the drug.

Testimonies

Shannon A. Banna, Director of Finance and System Controller, at Northside Hospital, Inc., noted that the 340B Program savings allow the hospital to provide drugs to some of its most vulnerable patients and expand its charity care and community programs. In addition, the hospital met 340B Program requirements, with only a single instance of inadvertent diversion of less than $7 in an HRSA audit. Northside is an independent Georgia non-profit corporation that owns or operates an extensive network of health care facilities in Georgia, including three acute care hospitals located across the northern metropolitan Atlanta area with a total of 926 operational beds and more than 150 ancillary and physician service sites located across the 28 county Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Michael Gifford, President and Chief Executive Officer, of AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, a non-profit providing health care services and support for HIV patients, stated that the savings generated by the 340B Program allowed entities to purchase certain medications at a price lower than what these medications are normally purchased for. In turn, these savings that are generated off the reimbursement for the medication purchased using 340B pricing are then reinvested into programs and services that directly benefit the individuals the covered entity serves.

Ronald A. Paulus, MD, President and CEO, of Mission Health Systems, Inc., testified that six Mission Health hospitals qualify to participate in the 340B Program based on either disproportionate share hospital (DSH) or critical access hospital status. The hospitals use of 340B Program savings directly reflects the intent and design of the 340B Program, going to support high quality, safety net services and programs many of which are otherwise unavailable in the region and would be unavailable absent the 340B program. He noted that funds provided by 340B program savings were integral to the hospital’s work.

Charles B. Reuland, Executive Vice President and COO, of The Johns Hopkins Hospital stated that participation in the 340B Program allowed the hospital to provide care and service to vulnerable individuals and families. As a safety net hospital, Johns Hopkins uses its 340B savings to respond to emerging crises and to continue serving the most vulnerable patients in Baltimore. Reuland noted that since 2009, Johns Hopkins has offered a charity program designed to improve access to effective, compassionate, evidence-based primary and specialty care to uninsured and underinsured patients from the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the hospital.

Sue Veer, President and CEO of Carolina Health Centers, Inc., a federally qualified health center that serves as the primary care medical home for 26,952 patients in the west central area of South Carolina, noted that using 2016 as a sample, 142,045 or 43.1 percent of the 329,679 prescriptions dispensed at the system’s two pharmacies were filled with 340B purchased inventory for eligible patients. The system’s total 340B savings for 2016—calculated as the net margin after the sale of the drug—was $561,620. She further noted that the savings enabled the health center to provide deeply discounted pharmacy services to those patients eligible for the income-based sliding fee program, offer medication therapy management to promote clinical and cost effective care, and assist patients with qualifying for manufacturer Patient Assistance Programs.

340B a small program with tricky compliance field

Although drug spending under the 340B program is a small fraction of drug spending in the country overall, compliance remains important for all entities involved: hospitals, pharmacies, and manufacturers. In a Health Care Compliance Association webinar entitled “340B Program: Finding Clarity in Uncertain Times,” presenters Karolyn Woo and Tony Lesser, both from Deloitte & Touche LLP, advised listeners to allocate the necessary resources to ensure compliance in light of increased audit activity.

340B program

Created by section 340B of the Public Health Service Act (PHSA), the program requires drug manufacturers participating in the Medicaid program to provide outpatient drugs to participating health care organizations at reduced prices. These discounts allow providers to save between 25-50 percent on outpatient drug costs. However, for perspective, 340B spending only accounted for just over $12 billion of the $310 billion spent on drugs in 2015.

Oversight and audits

Despite the program’s relatively small size, Woo and Lesser underscored the necessity of compliance, noting the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) increased oversight activity. The agency has recently contracted experienced auditors, who focus on eligibility, drug diversion, duplicate discounts, and billing accuracy. If issues are found during the audit, the HRSA Office of Pharmacy Affairs (OPA) will review these issues, present a corrective action plan to HRSA, and finalize its report. Drug diversion is the most common issue, and repayment to manufacturers was required in over half of the completed audits in fiscal years (FYs) 2015 and 2016. Although there has been no uptick in the number of manufacturer audits recently, HRSA may contact an entity to request certain information outside of an audit, which should be presented as clearly as possible. In addition, specialty pharmacies, which often represent a high percentage of a manufacturer’s 340B revenue, may fall under particular scrutiny.

Compliance plan

Repayment requires that the covered entity and the manufacturer work out a financial remedy in good faith. The process is hampered by outdated OPA information, lack of deadline guidance, and differing repayment calculations. To avoid being placed in this situation, covered entities should create a compliance plan that ensures close oversight of 340B activity, starting with educating staff and reviewing 340B policies and procedures. Entities should perform internal audits to find areas of non-compliance, and learn how to prevent and detect identified issues. When areas of non-compliance are found, they should be reported to manufacturers, HRSA, or other entities as required.

Trump nominates Gottlieb for FDA Commissioner

President Trump intends to nominate Scott Gottlieb, M.D., a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine, and a member of the HHS Federal Health IT Policy Committee, to the post of FDA Commissioner. The White House announced the nomination, which brought varied reactions from opposite sides of the aisle and a general positive response from the pharmaceutical industry, via a tweet from Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Gottlieb served as the Deputy FDA Commissioner from 2005 to 2007 and previously served as a senior official at CMS. He has testified before Congress on numerous occasions as an AEI felllow, most recently with respect to EpiPen® price increases and “How Regulatory Barriers Inhibit Pharmaceutical Competition.” Gottlieb noted that FDA regulatory policy has made developing less expensive copies of complex drugs after patent expiration difficult, discussed how the 340B program has put “upward pressure on drug prices,” while noting other change in drug insurance coverage structure, and described obstacles to competitive single source drug pricing.

Various sources report that Gottlieb has close ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Scientific American noted that Gottlieb believes in a quicker approval process for new drugs, but has focused on shortening waiting times for large, clinical trials rather than doing away with efficacy considerations. He commented on this, to an extent, in remarks he made at the 21st Annual International Meeting of the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR) in May 2016.

Gottlieb has also issued commentary about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Ac (ACA) (P.L. 111-148). In May 2016, he testified before Congress that the law’s tiered marketplace approach has aided consumers with plan selection, but has forced insurers into narrow design corridors. His testimony regarding the ACA also included a suggestion that CMS move away from mandates and towards incentives to encourage individuals to enter into the insurance market (see Is there a better way than the ACA? Hearing asks experts, Health Law Daily, May 12, 2016). More recently, he coauthored a piece with another AEI fellow, opining that President Trump’s election provided, “a generational opportunity to pursue a new direction for American health care” and making suggestions about how a new health care system should operate. The authors suggested that the system should provide a path to catastrophic health insurance for all, accommodate individuals with pre-existing health conditions, allow access to health savings accounts, and deregulate the medical services market.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn), Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, touted Gottlieb’s “impressive qualifications” in a released statement. His colleague, Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash), expressed “initial concerns” about the nomination, including Gottlieb’s “work with multiple pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, and investment firms.”