On June 7, 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it would conduct an inquiry into the competitive impact of contracting and other business practices of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), including their effects on access to and affordability of prescription drugs.  As part of the inquiry, which is similar to FTC inquiries into other aspects of the health care industry, the FTC issued orders under Section 6(b) of the FTC Act requiring the six largest PBMs to provide information and records to the Commission. 

The five FTC commissioners voted unanimously on June 6, 2022 to conduct the study and issue the Section 6(b) orders.  According to the FTC mission statement, Section 6(b) “enables [the FTC] to conduct wide-ranging studies that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose.” 

In February, an earlier proposed review of PBMs failed to receive approval on a 2-2 party-line vote, with the two Republican Commissioners, Noah J. Phillips and Christine S. Wilson, voting against the proposed study. Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya was confirmed by the Senate in May, giving Democrats three seats on the Commission. 

Commissioners Phillips and Wilson issued a statement indicating that they had voted to approve the current inquiry because it has a different scope than the previously proposed study, including relationships between PBMs and both pharmacies and pharmaceutical manufacturers, “including, critically, how those practices might impact out-of-pocket costs for consumers.”

The FTC stated that its inquiry will examine PBMs’ role as middlemen who are hired by health plans to negotiate rebates and fees with drug manufacturers, create drug formularies and related policies, and reimburse pharmacies for patients’ prescriptions.  The Commission said that PBMs “often have enormous influence on which drugs are prescribed to patients, which pharmacies patients can use, and how much patients ultimately pay at the pharmacy counter.”  Chair Linda M. Khan stated that the FTC had received complaints about PBM practices from patients and professionals across the healthcare system, several of which the inquiry will examine.    

Continue Reading FTC announces inquiry into PBM practices and orders PBMs to provide information

In November 2020, four months after the Trump Administration issued a series of Executive Orders reiterating its policy goals on reducing the costs to consumers for prescription drugs and directing the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (“HHS-OIG”) to implement those policy objectives, HHS-OIG issued a Final Rule to amend certain provisions in the safe harbor regulations under the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”). The Final Rule included three key provisions:

  1. Elimination of discount safe harbor protection for manufacturer rebates paid directly, or indirectly through a pharmacy benefit manager (“PBM”) to Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage plans (the “Rebate Rule”);
  2. Creation of a new safe harbor to protect point-of-sale (“POS”) price reductions paid by manufacturers to Medicare Part D plans, Medicare Advantage plans, and Medicaid managed care organizations (“MCOs”); and
  3. Creation of a new safe harbor to protect fair-market-value (FMV) service fees paid to PBMs by manufacturers.

The Final Rule imposed a January 1, 2022, effective date for the Rebate Rule. However, in January 2021, two months after issuance of the Final Rule and in connection to a lawsuit brought by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association challenging the Rebate Rule, the Biden Administration agreed to delay the Rebate Rule’s effective date to January 1, 2023, as reflected in an Order by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

In the intervening time though, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (the “Infrastructure Act”). That law, signed by President Biden on November 15, 2021, further delayed implementation of the Rebate Rule to January 2026. Thus the rule, which many thought would be eliminated as part of paying for the cost of the infrastructure bill, was still alive, if only delayed until the middle of the next presidential term.

Continue Reading Future of discount safe harbor for prescription drugs remains uncertain

On August 1, 2021, the Senate released the legislative text of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” H.R. 3684.  The Senate is expected to vote this week, before a month-long recess beginning on August 9, 2021.  The 2,702 page legislation contains several relevant health care-related provisions, including a delay of the implementation of the rule eliminating the Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) safe harbor protection for Medicare Part D rebates.

Rebate for Discarded Amounts of Medicare Part B Single-Dose Container or Single-Use Package Drugs

First, the legislation requires manufacturers of single-dose container or single-use package drugs payable under Medicare Part B to provide a rebate to the government for any discarded portion of that drug.  The rebates will be charged each quarter, beginning with the first quarter of 2023, and must be paid in regular intervals, as determined appropriate by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”).  The legislation provides that, in order to enforce this provision, HHS will conduct periodic audits of both drug manufacturers and providers who submit claims.  For violations of this provision, HHS will impose Civil Monetary Penalties in amounts equal to the sum of the amount that the manufacturer would have paid and twenty-five percent of such amount.

Continue Reading Health Care Provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

The House of Representatives has approved — without objection — a series of bills intended to promote prescription drug pricing transparency and invest in the health care workforce.

With regard to drug pricing transparency, the House approved HR 2115, the Public Disclosure of Drug Discounts Act, as amended to include HR 3415, the Real-Time Beneficiary Drug Cost Bill.  The legislation would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make public certain aggregate information regarding rebates, discounts, and price concessions that pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) negotiate with prescription drug manufacturers, beginning January 1, 2020.  The stated purpose of the provision is “to allow the comparison of PBMs’ ability to negotiate rebates, discounts, direct and indirect remuneration fees, administrative fees, and price concessions and the amount of such rebates, discounts, direct and indirect remuneration fees, administrative fees, and price concessions that are passed through to plan sponsors.”  The information must be displayed in a manner (i.e., by drug class) that prevents the disclosure of proprietary or confidential information on rebates, discounts, direct and indirect remuneration fees, administrative fees, and price concessions with respect to an individual drug or an individual plan.

Furthermore, HR 2115 as approved would require the Medicare Part D program to implement by January 1, 2021 electronic, real-time benefit tools capable of integrating with prescribers’ electronic prescribing or electronic health record system and that transmit enrollee-specific, point-of-prescribing information.  Such information must include a list of any clinically-appropriate drug alternatives in the plan formulary; cost-sharing information for a drug and such alternatives; and formulary status, including any prior authorization or other utilization management requirements.  Additionally, the legislation expresses the “sense of Congress” that commercially available drug pricing comparison platforms that help patients find the lowest price for their medications at their local pharmacy “should be integrated, to the maximum extent possible, in the health care delivery ecosystem.”  Likewise, PBMs “should work to disclose generic and brand name drug prices to such platforms” so patients can benefit from the lowest available prices and “overall drug prices can be reduced as more educated purchasing decisions are made based on price transparency.”  The House approved the legislation by a vote of 403 – 0.
Continue Reading House Clears Prescription Drug Price Transparency, Health Workforce Legislation

The Trump Administration has decided against finalizing a controversial proposed Office of Inspector General (OIG) regulation that would have modified Federal Anti-Kickback Statute safe harbor protection for certain prescription drug rebates to health plans and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).  As we previously reported, the proposed rule would have (i) removed safe harbor protection for

Prior to the 4th of July break, Senate and House Committees approved more than a dozen health policy bills, covering topics including:  surprise medical bills, health pricing transparency, drug prices and competition, various Medicare policies, and public health program reauthorization, among others.  The following are highlights of recent action.  Note that none of the bills has yet been considered by the full House or Senate, and all are subject to change during the legislative process.

Senate HELP Committee

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee approved S 1895, the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.  This high-profile, bipartisan legislation would hold patients harmless from “surprise” medical bills for out-of-network services provided at an in-network facility, with payment to out-of-network providers set at the median contracted rate for in-network providers in the geographic area (a controversial “benchmark rate” proposal).  The bill contains separate protections regarding costs for emergency room and air ambulance services.  Additionally, S 1895 seeks to improve health care transparency by, among other things, banning what are described as “anticompetitive” terms in contracts between insurers and providers; providing patients with additional information on out-of-pocket costs; and regulating certain pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) pricing practices.  The legislation also includes numerous provisions intended to promote generic drug and biosimilar biological product innovation; improve health information exchange and strengthen health entity cybersecurity practices; and authorize various public health programs.  The Committee approved the bill on June 26, 2019 on a vote of 20-3.  Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander expressed hope for full Senate consideration of the bill in July.

During the same markup, the HELP Committee also approved S 1173, the Emergency Medical Services for Children Program Reauthorization Act, and S 1199, the Poison Center Network Enhancement Act of 2019.

Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the following four bills that are intended to help reduce prescription drug prices:

  • S 1227, the Prescription Pricing for the People Act of 2019, which would require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to study the role of PBMs in the pharmaceutical supply chain and provide Congress with related policy recommendations.
  • S 440, the Preserving Access to Cost Effective Drugs Act, which would bar patent owners from asserting sovereign immunity, including the sovereign immunity accorded to an Indian tribe, in certain drug patent disputes.
  • S 1224, the “Stop STALLING Act,” to authorize the FTC to take action against entities that file “sham” citizen petitions to attempt to interfere with approval of a competing generic drug or biosimilar.
  • S 1416, Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act of 2019, which would authorize the FTC to challenge certain brand manufacturer practices (e.g., “product hopping” and “patent thickets”) that could discourage generic drug and biological use.

House Ways and Means Committee

The House Ways and Means Committee recently passed the following health policy bills:
Continue Reading Congressional Committees Advance Multiple Bills Addressing Surprise Medical Billing, Prescription Drug Policy, and Other Health Policy Issues

Recent Congressional hearings and markups have concentrated on prescription drug pricing, insurance access, and other health topics.  For instance, last week the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved H.R. 2113, the Prescription Drug Sunshine, Transparency, Accountability and Reporting Act of 2019 (STAR Act).   The legislation would, among other things:

  • Require drug manufacturers to report their “justification” for drug price increases that exceed certain thresholds.
  • Mandate that manufacturers of drug, biologicals, devices, and medical supplies publicly report on the Open Payments database the value and quantity of free samples given to providers.
  • Extend to manufacturers without a Medicaid rebate agreement the requirement to report average sales price for drugs covered under Medicare Part B, and authorize civil money penalties for failure to report such information or for reporting false information.
  • Direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to publicly disclose certain rebates, discounts, and other price concessions achieved by pharmaceutical benefits managers (PBMs) and to report on drugs furnished in the inpatient hospital setting.

Earlier this month the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved 12 bills aimed at reducing prescription drug and other health care costs, including legislation intended to:  bolster generic drug competition; support Affordable Care Act insurance enrollment programs and state-based insurance marketplaces; reverse Trump Administration policies on short-term, limited duration health insurance and State Relief and Empowerment Waivers; and establish an “Improve Health Insurance Affordability Fund” to help states lower premiums in the individual health insurance market.

In addition to these markups, Congressional panels have held hearings various health policy issues, including the following:
Continue Reading Congressional Committees Continue Focus on Prescription Drugs, Insurance Coverage Policy

Late yesterday, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a proposed rule to amend the anti-kickback safe harbors[1] in response to perceived risks that rebates paid by pharmaceutical manufacturers to payors and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) may contribute to pharmaceutical list price inflation and not benefit patients and payors.  The proposed rule would (i) remove safe harbor protection for drug manufacturer rebates to Part D plans, Medicaid managed care organizations, and PBMs acting under contract with either type of entity, (ii) establish a new safe harbor protecting manufacturer “point of sale” price reductions on Part D and Medicaid managed care drug utilization, and (iii) establish a new safe harbor protecting certain service fees paid by drug manufacturers to PBMs.  The proposed rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on February 6, 2019, with a 60-day public comment period.

Reed Smith’s Life Sciences and Health Industry Group will be preparing a more detailed client bulletin analyzing the potential implications of the proposed rule and identifying areas for comment.  In the meantime, here are a few of our “hot takes” to consider as you review the proposal.
Continue Reading OIG’s Proposed Drug Pricing Safe Harbor Amendments: “Hot Takes”

On July 18, 2018, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for regulatory review a proposed rule entitled “Removal Of Safe Harbor Protection for Rebates to Plans or PBMs Involving Prescription Pharmaceuticals and Creation of New Safe Harbor

The Trump Administration has launched a high-profile initiative aimed at reducing prescription drug prices, including release of a blueprint containing a series of short- and long-term policy proposals and a request for public comments on additional reforms.

First, on May 11, 2018 the Department of Health and Human Services released its “Blueprint to Lower

A recent OIG report, “Gaps in Oversight of Conflicts of Interest in Medicare Prescription Drug Decisions,” examines how Medicare Part D drug plan pharmacy and therapeutics (P&T) committees ensure that formulary decisions are not biased by conflicts of interest. Based on a survey of P&T committees and a review of their written policies

The GAO has issued a report that responds to concerns raised by certain Democratic lawmakers that manufacturers participating in the Medicare Part D drug “Coverage Gap Discount Program” would raise prices for brand-name drugs used by beneficiaries in the coverage gap to offset the 50% discount that manufacturers must provide under the Affordable Care Act.