CVS-Aetna merger approved, subject to divestiture of PDP business

The federal district court in the District of Columbia has concluded that the proposed consent judgment allowing the merger of CVS Health Corporation and Aetna, Inc. is in the public interest. The merger may go forward under the condition that CVS divest Aetna’s individual Medicare prescription drug plan (PDP) business to WellCare Health Plans, Inc. The court considered objections to the merger raised by industry, consumers, and states, and concluded that the divestiture will effectively remedy the harm to the PDP market and will not be rendered ineffective due to the proposed judgment’s failure to address effects in markets adjacent to the PDP market (U.S. v. CVS Health Corporation, September 4, 2019, Leon, R.).

In response to the proposed merger between CVS and Aetna, the United States simultaneously filed a complaint and a proposed consent judgment in 2018. Under the terms of the proposed consent judgment, CVS would divest Aetna’s individual Medicare prescription drug plan (PDP) business to WellCare Health Plans, Inc. A number of parties including members of industry, consumer groups, and state regulatory bodies (amici) opposed the proposed consent judgment and filed briefs stating their concerns. As part of its review under the Tunney Act, the court conducted a hearing with witnesses from parties and amici.

The court concluded that the proposed consent judgment is in the public interest, although it did reject the government’s assertion that the court may only consider harms alleged in the complaint. The amici briefs raised three primary objections to the merger. First, that Aetna’s divestiture to WellCare will not effectively remedy the harm to the PDP market, because the divestiture leaves the PDP market overly concentrated and WellCare will not be as strong a competitor in the PDP market as Aetna was. On this point, the court found the evidence from CVS and the Government to be more persuasive. That evidence included testimony that the PDP market is already highly competitive, because plans can be easily compared, and the market is only moderately concentrated. The moderate concentration in the PDP market has neither prevented WellCare from competing in the market, nor prevented price competition from driving premium prices down, in recent years.

Amici also argued that the proposed final judgment’s failure to address effects in markets adjacent to the PDP market will undercut the effectiveness of the divestiture remedy and harm the public. For example, CVS could raise the price of its pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) services when selling the services to health insurance competitors. Such an action could threaten the success of the proposed divestiture remedy because WellCare, which both competes against CVS in the PDP market and contracts with CVS for PBM services, would be vulnerable to such a tactic. But CVS presented more persuasive evidence that substantially undermines this theory. Rival PBMs try to underbid CVS and CVS’s PBM oftentimes competes against its own customers because health insurance companies can move PBM services in house if they consider CVS’s price for contract services too high. That evidence strongly suggests that, if CVS were to raise its PBM prices, customers like WellCare could simply switch to a less expensive PBM or stop contracting for those PBM services altogether.

Finally, amici argued that the proposed final judgment without modification will harm HIV and AIDS patients in need of affordable, quality healthcare. But the court concluded that the record did not establish that the judgment will likely result in CVS gaining the ability to steer patients away from their current healthcare providers (such as the AIDS Healthcare Foundation). The Foundation uses a different PBM and maintains its own pharmacies, therefore it is unlikely that CVS will be likely to steer patients away from the Foundation.

In the Department of Justice press release announcing the settlement, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Antitrust Division expressed pleasure with the decision, noting that the judgment provides a “comprehensive remedy” that “protects seniors and other vulnerable customers of individual PDPs from the anticompetitive effects that would have occurred if CVS and Aetna had merged their individual PDP businesses.”

American Antitrust Institute (AAI) statement. “AAI strongly disagrees with the merits of the court’s opinion,” said AAI President Diana Moss. “On most points, the court simply accepted piecemeal evidence introduced by the DOJ and CVS. The opinion discounts the showing by amici that the remedy will fail to preserve competition in PDP markets and that the merger raises significant vertical concerns ignored by the DOJ in its complaint. The opinion’s statement that ‘[N]otwithstanding CVS’s significant market share, the evidence showed that CVS must compete vigorously to retain its PBM customers’ is divorced from sound economics.”

Annual report to HHS for improving Medicare, Medicaid, and related services

HHS should undertake steps to (1) guard against fraud, waste, and abuse, (2) help beneficiaries and providers, and (3) implement better payment policies, according to the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) annual report on the top unimplemented recommendations from the previous year. While the report ranged far and wide in its recommendations, including a suggestion to the FDA to improve food safety inspections, the bulk of the report was dedicated to addressing fraud, waste, and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid (OIG Report, July 22, 2019).

Background

Each year, the OIG creates a report that focuses on what it contends are the top recommendations for improvement in HHS programs that were not implemented over the past year. This report offers suggestions to both HHS and the FDA on where they should direct their reform efforts for maximum benefit.

The OIG made the following recommendation pertaining to fraud, waste, and abuse.

Inpatient rehab facilities 

In 2013, Medicare paid $5.7 billion to inpatient rehabilitation facilities (IRF) for care to beneficiaries that was not reasonable and necessary. The errors, the OIG said, were due in part to the fact that the payments to the IRFs were not properly aligned with the costs. The current system gives the IRFs a financial incentive to admit patients inappropriately. CMS is apparently evaluating the payment system, which includes a recently issued final year 2019 IRF prospective payment system final rule to update policies and payment rates for fiscal year 2019.

‘Least costly alternative’ Part B drugs

If the least costly alternative requirement had not been rescinded for Part B drugs, Medicare would have saved $33.3 million in one year ($264.6 to $231.3 million). Once the requirement was removed, utilization patterns shifted dramatically in favor of costlier products.

Part D drug oversight

Medicare Part D spending on compounded topical drugs soared from $13.2 million in 2010 to $232.5 million in 2016. Questionable billing practices seem to be concentrated in a few metropolitan areas. OIG has identified prescribers with troubling order patterns. States are hamstrung in their ability to prevent drug overpayments. State agencies need to know the 340B ceiling prices and which Medicaid claims are associated with 340B drugs to ensure that the claims are paid correctly.

Managed care organization improvements

OIG believes that a significant amount of underreporting of fraud and abuse is occurring in Medicaid involving managed care organizations. For example, even where a managed care organization discovers fraud or abuse, OIG says that it will handle the situation by itself (terminating the contract) rather than report it to CMS. CMS must do more to ensure that the organizations identify and refer fraud and abuse to the state.

Help beneficiaries and providers

In addition, the OIG recommended that CMS analyze the impact of counting time as an outpatient toward the 3-night requirement for skilled nursing facility services (SNF). Beneficiaries with similar post-hospital care needs have different access to SNF services depending upon whether they were outpatients or inpatients because of the requirement that the beneficiary spend at least three nights as an inpatient to obtain post-hospital SNF Medicare coverage. Furthermore, CMS paid an estimated $84.2 million in improper payments between 2013 and 2015 because SNFs incorrectly determined whether the 3-night requirement was met. CMS should consider changes to make the system fairer, which could include counting time as an outpatient.

FDA

The OIG had a single recommendation for the FDA, noting that deficiencies exist in the FDA’s electronic recall data system. The FDA relies too much on voluntary corrections by facilities. Just over half the facilities that were inspected and should have received warning letters actually received warning letters. The FDA also frequently fails to conduct timely follow-up inspections to ensure compliance. The OIG suggested that the FDA act to address these shortcomings.

CY 2019 Medicare Part C and D policy changes and updates finalized

CMS has issued a Final rule making revisions to the Medicare Advantage (MA) (Part C) and prescription drug benefit (Part D) programs based on its continued experience in the administration of these programs and to implement certain provisions of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA) (P.L. 114-198) and the 21st Century Cures Act (P.L. 114-255). The major provisions of the Final rule include: (1) the implementation of the CARA provisions governing the establishment of drug management programs, (2) revisions to timing and method of disclosure requirements for MA and Part D plans, and (3) preclusion list requirements for prescribers in Part D and individuals and entities in MA, cost plans, and Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) (Final rule, 83 FR 16440, April 16, 2018).

On November 28, 2017, CMS published the Proposed rule (see Proposed CY 2019 Part C and D changes address opioid misuse and numerous other policy concerns, Health Law Daily, November 17, 2017). While this Final rule finalizes several of the provisions from the Proposed rule, there are a number of provisions from the Proposed rule that CMS intends to address later and a few that it does not intend to finalize. These provisions are discussed in the Final rule.

CARA provisions

CARA includes new authority for Part D plans to establish drug management programs effective on or after January 1, 2019. This Final rule establishes a framework under which Part D plan sponsors may establish a drug management program for beneficiaries at risk for prescription drug abuse or misuse, or “at-risk beneficiaries.” Specifically, under drug management programs, Part D plans will engage in case management of potential at-risk beneficiaries, through contact with their prescribers, when such beneficiary is found to be taking a specific dosage of opioids or obtaining them from multiple prescribers and multiple pharmacies who may not know about each other. Sponsors may then limit at-risk beneficiaries’ access to coverage of controlled substances that CMS determines are “frequently abused drugs” to a selected prescribers or network pharmacies after case management with the prescribers for the safety of the enrollee.

CMS also limits the use of the special enrollment period (SEP) for dually- or other low income subsidy (LIS)-eligible beneficiaries by those LIS-eligible beneficiaries who are identified as at-risk or potentially at-risk for prescription drug abuse under such a drug management program. Finally, these provisions will codify the current Part D Opioid Drug Utilization Review (DUR) Policy and Overutilization Monitoring System (OMS) by integrating this current policy with drug management program provisions.

The purpose of these CARA drug management program provisions is to create a lock-in status for certain at-risk beneficiaries. In addition to the benefits of preventing opioid and benzodiazepine dependency in beneficiaries, CMS estimates, in 2019, a reduction of $19 million in Trust Fund expenditures because of reduced opioid scripts. This $19 million reduction modestly increases to a $20 million reduction in 2023.

Timing and method of disclosure requirements

CMS is finalizing changes to align the MA and Part D regulations in authorizing CMS to set the manner of delivery for mandatory disclosures in both the MA and Part D programs. CMS will use this authority to allow MA plans to meet the disclosure and delivery requirements for certain documents by relying on notice of electronic posting and provision of the documents in hard copy when requested, when previously the documents, such as the Evidence of Coverage (EOC), had to be provided in hard copy. CMS is also changing the timeframe for delivery of the MA and Part D EOC to the first day of the Annual Election Period (AEP), rather than 15 days prior to that date.

Allowing MA and Part D plans to provide the EOC electronically will alleviate plan burden related to printing and mailing and reduce the number of paper documents that enrollees receive from plans. In addition, changing the date by which plans must provide the EOC to enrollees will (1) allow plans more time to finalize the formatting and ensure the accuracy of the information in the EOC, and (2) separate the mailing and receipt of the EOC from the Annual Notice of Change (ANOC), which describes the important changes in a patient’s plan from one year to the next.

CMS estimates that 67 percent of the current 47.8 million beneficiaries will prefer use of the internet versus hard copies. This will result in a savings to the industry of $54.7 million each year, 2019 through 2023, due to a reduction in printing and mailing costs.

Preclusion list requirements for prescribers and providers

The Final rule rescinds the current regulatory requirement that prescribers of Part D drugs and providers of MA services and items must enroll in Medicare in order for the drug, service, or item to be covered. Instead, a Part D plan sponsor will be required to reject, or require its pharmacy benefit manager to reject, a pharmacy claim for a Part D drug if the individual who prescribed the drug is included on the “preclusion list.” Similarly, an MA service or item will not be covered if the provider that furnished the service or item is on the preclusion list.

The preclusion list will consist of certain individuals and entities that are currently revoked from the Medicare program under 42 CFR sec. 424.535 and are under an active reenrollment bar, or have engaged in behavior for which CMS could have revoked the individual or entity to the extent applicable if they had been enrolled in Medicare, and CMS determines that the underlying conduct that led, or would have led, to the revocation is detrimental to the best interests of the Medicare program.

CMS estimates that for 2019, the preclusion list provision will save providers $34.4 million. For 2020 and future years, there will be no savings. The $34.4 million in savings to providers arises because of removal of the requirement of MA providers and suppliers and Part D prescribers to enroll in Medicare as a prerequisite for furnishing health care items and services. Part C providers and suppliers will save $24.1 million in reduced costs while Part D providers will save $10.3 million in reduced costs.

More choices and lower premiums available for MA and PDPs in CY 2018

As calendar year (CY) 2018 approaches, CMS reports that both the Medicare Advantage (MA) and the Part D prescription drug plan (PDP) programs continue to grow, currently providing care and services to more than one-third of Medicare beneficiaries. CMS also reports that the average monthly premium for an MA plan will decrease, enrollment in MA is projected to reach an all-time high, and premiums for a basic PDP will fall for the first time since 2012.

Earlier this year, CMS announced new policies in the 2018 Rate Announcement and Final Call Letter that support flexibility, efficiency, and innovative approaches that are designed to improve quality accessibility and affordability in MA and PDP programs.

MA program data

CMS data provides the following information regarding the MA program for CY 2018:

  • MA enrollment is projected to be an all-time high of 20.4 million beneficiaries, representing a 9-percent (1.7 million) increase from 18.7 million in CY 2017.
  • MA average monthly premiums will decrease by $1.91 to $30.
  • 99 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will have access to at least one MA health plan in their area.
  • More than 85 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will have access to 10 or more MA plans.
  • The average number of MA plan choices per county will increase by two plans—up to approximately 29 plan choices per county.
  • Access to popular supplemental benefits, such as dental, vision, and hearing, continues to grow in MA plans.
  • Approximately 77 percent of MA enrollees in 2017 will have the same or lower premium in 2018 if they continue in the same plan.

PDP program data

CMS projects that the average monthly premium for a basic Medicare PDP in CY 2018 will decrease by $1.20 to an estimated $33.50 per month. CMS also reports that all Medicare beneficiaries will have access to at least one stand-alone Medicare PDP.

Medicare Open Enrollment improvements

CMS is announcing several consumer-friendly improvements so that people with Medicare can make an informed choice between original fee-for-service Medicare and MA plans during open enrollment. These improvements include: (1) updating the “Medicare & You” handbook to better explain coverage options; (2) establishing a help wizard on Medicare.gov that will point to resources to help make informed health care decisions; and (3) establishing a new email communication opportunity to improve the customer service experience through important messages and reminders.