Ask your US Congress Rep to Support Transparency Bill HR 4808

Please take the action requested from our friends at AID:

Lend Your Voice to US Transparency Bill 

Transparency in health-care pricing is one of AID’s core missions. A new bipartisan bill circulating in Congress would go a long way toward that goal if passed. We are asking for your help in encouraging members of congress to support HR 4808.

Executive Director Marni Jameson Carey sent a version of the letter below to several U.S. congressional leaders this week. We encourage you to do the same. Here is a word doc for you to personalize and send to your representative and senator.

Dear (NAME OF REP. OR SEN.): Continue reading

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Can a Former Pharma Insider Solve Sky High Rx Costs?

HHS Secretary Alex Azar talked a good game in a Rose Garden ceremony and subsequent press conference—held Friday, May 11—on Trump Administration efforts to lower prescription drug costs for American patients.

Azar is, of course, a former executive of Eli Lilly. Can he be trusted to champion the interests of everyday Americans?

We will soon find out.  President Trump stated that Sec. Azar’s insider knowledge about the complex schemes to raise prices, perpetrated by industry middlemen, is exactly what makes him the right person for the job.

Watch the video of the Rose Garden Ceremony:

Although groups like Physicians Against Drug Shortages have been sounding the alarm for years, industry-led smoke and mirrors have, until recently, largely flown under the radar of the main-stream-media. Thankfully, respected outlets like the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times are now beginning to shine needed light on this malfeasance.

As these articles explain, a safe harbor to Medicare anti-kickback law is the major policy failure enabling the bad actors to line their pockets by driving up costs. The safe harbor legalizes kickbacks paid by manufacturers to Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) and their cousins-in-crime Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs).

TownHall.com reports: Repealing the GPO/PBM safe harbor to Medicare anti-kickback law “would open the drug and medical supply segment of healthcare to free market competition and foster innovation. In addition, it would result in cost reductions estimated at $100 billion [actually more like $200 billion], including savings for the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”

Congress initially enacted the GPO safe harbor in 1986. Then in 1987 Congress reaffirmed the measure, instructed HHS to implant the the safe harbor into regulation, and granted HHS authority to create additional safe harbors. In 2003 HHS OIG issued guidance clearing the way for PBMs to piggyback on the GPO safe harbor. Such guidance could theoretically be revised or rescinded by the HHS Secretary, without needing action by Congress.

And in their remarks today, both Trump and Azar mentioned that they will be looking at reining in such abusive practices.

Later in the press room, Azar explained that there are perverse incentives at play: “These big price increases are actually a good deal for pharmacy benefit managers, who are supposed to keep prices down.”

Video of White House Press Conference With Sec. Azar:

What is HHS going to do? They put out a 44-page blueprint of their plan:

https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/AmericanPatientsFirst.pdf

One step HHS announced it will implement immediately is a prohibition of Part D gag clauses, “preventing pharmacists’ telling patients when they could pay less out-of-pocket by not using insurance.”

Great words but let’s hope HHS doesn’t stop there. The blueprint is less clear about other action HHS will take related to PBMs, although it states HHS is considering:  “Measures to restrict the use of rebates, including revisiting the safe harbor under the Anti-Kickback statute for drug rebate.”

Rebates? Why does CMS use that euphemism? They are not rebates, they are legalized kickbacks.  Furthermore, rebates do not go to the patients, they flow to the PBM and insurance companies.

Unfortunately, HHS has a poor track record when it comes to using it’s existing authority to stop PBM abuse. The Government Accountability Office reports: “since 2004, [HHS] has not routinely exercised its authority to request and review disclosures” that PBMs are required to make available to comply with the safe harbor.

HHS promises there will be an opportunity for the public to comment through a “Request for Information.”

HHS appears to be asking the right questions, including:

“Do PBM rebates and fees based on the percentage of the list price create an incentive to favor higher list prices (and the potential for higher rebates) rather than lower prices?”

and

“Should PBMs be obligated to act solely in the interest of the entity for whom they are managing pharmaceutical benefits? Should PBMs be forbidden from receiving any payment or remuneration from manufacturers, and should PBM contracts be forbidden from including rebates or fees calculated as a percentage of list prices? What effect would imposing this fiduciary duty on PBMs on behalf of the ultimate payer (i.e.,
consumers) have on PBMs’ ability to negotiate drug prices?”

When details become available about the comment opportunity we will ask that all patients and doctors demand that HHS take strong action to stop the PBM and GPO kickbacks.

Ultimately, as Trump stated in his comments, Congress will need to do it’s part in concert with administration actions.  One priority for Congress must be to repeal the GPO/PBM safe harbor and end legalized kickbacks.

In the meantime HHS can lead the way to educate Americans on how such repeal will save $200 billion dollars/year and prevent dangerous drug shortages.

Americans are depending on you to do the right thing, Secretary Azar.

Insurance denials must stop!

To: Lily Tyson, Chief Health Insurance Bureau
NJ Department of Banking and Insurance

Re: Horizon BCBS discrimination

Dear Chief Tyson,

This letter is to make you aware that Horizon BCBS and its affiliates are harming a patient with their precertification, prior authorization, appeal and denial of services processes. The patient indicated below has diabetes and multiple medical conditions, which he diligently and routinely follows up at our office. For the past three months, the patient and I have aggressively pursued a continuous glucose monitoring device to assist both of us in getting his blood glucose under best control.

Despite the fact that the patient and I agree on this, Horizon BCBS and its affiliates have denied the patient this medically necessary item. Further, while the Endocrinology Society, The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American diabetes association clinical societies all recommend continuous glucose monitoring for best management of diabetes Horizon BCBS and its affiliates insist on harming the patient by denying him this medically necessary tool.

Furthermore, Horizon BCBS medical directors have denied this patient the necessary medical monitoring device, thereby potentially causing their insured harm, and may be liable as they are making care decisions and denial of care decisions for the patient.

I ask:

  1. Do they have the patient’s informed consent to make care decisions?
  2. Are they licensed physicians in NJ?
  3. What is their malpractice coverage for this activity?
  4. Are they specialty trained in endocrinology?
  5. As employees of Horizon BCBS, do they have a conflict of interest?

Horizon BCBS precertification, prior authorization, appeal and denial of service processses are harmful to both patients and physician providers of medical services.  Please put Horizon BCBS on notice to case and desist making clinical care decisions for patients through their onerous and harmful money making processes. This is especially critical in light of the pending NJ law that would mandate the purchase of insurance products like those offered by Horizon BCBS.

Sincerely,

Craig M. Wax, DO, Family Physician

Congress Can End Corrupt PBM Kickbacks as A Step to True Healthcare Reform

It’s past time for Congress to undo the damage it created back in the 80’s when it exempted hospital group purchasing organizations from anti-kickback rules intended to curb Medicare fraud and abuse. Hospitals claimed this exemption would lower their costs but in reality it created a loophole that ended up increasing costs for patients and lowering quality.  TownHall.com recently published an expose of the scam: “The Multi-Billion Dollar Solution: Repeal Safe Harbor”:

History is rife with examples of government applying band-aid on top of band-aid to fix problems that arise from earlier legislative failures. The problem is, each fix tends to create a new problem or even exacerbate existing problems.

It’s time to rip this particular band-aid right off.

The roots of this particular saga can be traced back to the passage of Medicare and Medicaid.  With patients no longer in charge of the health care dollar — and a third party managing most of of bills — schemes were hatched to bilk Uncle Sam and taxpayers for  medical costs that were either unneeded or not-provided at all.  Congress passed a number of rules to stop kickbacks that helped facilitate fraud and abuse.  Usually the fix came with unintended consequences precipitating even more rules and regulations.

Ending the GPO kickback scheme is a great start. But lasting and meaningful change will also require a hard look at the underlying disease behind higher costs and lower quality. To quote The CATO Institute,”As for socialist economics, it has always resulted in shortages, inefficiency, poverty, and desperation.”

The simple truth is this: Government intervention disrupts the free market forces that weed out bad actors while rewarding entrepreneurs who give customers the best products at the lowest possible cost.

Making high-quality care available to the greatest number of patients requires putting this truth into practice. There are thousands of middlemen who make literal fortunes from the broken status quo and will fight to keep this from happening.

The good news is that they are outnumbered by the hundreds of millions of patients who will benefit from a return to sound free market principles. Making sure Americans understand this truth is a challenging task, but one at which we must succeed.

It is not only Aetna, but every major health insurer.

To: Mr. David Jones
Insurance Commissioner of California

Dear Mr. Jones:
I and many of my physician colleagues were gratified to learn in the news this week that you are opening an investigation into Aetna’s ‘prior auth’ practices. I share this little story from today, just so you know it is not only Aetna, but every major health insurer. This is a major reason why our country’s health care is the most expensive, and among the least productive in the developed world (the reverse of just a few years ago), and why U.S. life expectancy has now declined for the second year in a row. I have cc some great physician leaders that I have worked with in California.
Thanks,

Michael Strickland, MD
letmydoctorpractice.org

This is how tests were ordered 10 yrs ago:

Dr to staff: Get a Cat scan (CTPA) of the chest scheduled asap on this patient with recurrent chest pain (who called me last night with worsening pain), now coughing up small amounts of blood (which could become large amounts, at any time, until we know what is causing it), with abnormal fluid collection (pleural effusion).
Minutes later:
Staff: CT scheduled for 9 a.m. tomorrow.
Dr : Great. Next patient..

In 2018:

Tues afternoon:
Dr. to staff (above)
Wed. a.m., I haven’t heard when scheduled. Ask staff. “Hasn’t been scheduled yet. Anthem says it will take a couple of days for them to decide if this test is necessary.” (Note that if the patient gets CT done today and we find a problem, we still have time to do something about it. If Anthem approves it for Friday at 4 pm, there will likely be nothing we can do until Monday..assuming it has not become an emergency, during the delay.)
I call Anthem at 888-224-4902. Get transfer to “provider svcs” 800-345-4344. Get told I need to hang up and call ‘peer to peer line’ at 866-876-3184.

When I call, get voice mail that says “leave your information, and someone will get back to you WITHIN 30 DAYS” !!!!! (I left some information alright).

Call 1st no. back, tell them I want this test approved NOW, or get a Dr. or RN on the phone with me now, or I will send the patient to the ER, and Anthem can pay $5000 to get this done. (Then I remember, the patient has a $12,000 deductible. So, why is Anthem even involved?? “Oh, we still have to approve.”) An RN comes on the line. After a few moments, she says, “Well, a ‘case’ hasn’t been started yet. Your staff will need to call 800-554-0580.” I thank her for her help, tell her this is why I practice direct patient care and do not accept insurance, and ask if she’s seen the news this week that the state of California is investigating Anthem (oops, Aetna. Same thing) over its prior authorization practices.

Give staff above no. She calls and gets CT scan “approved”.

I spent 25 min total on phone w Anthem, plus 15 min w patient and staff, plus documenting (in case of bad outcome, d/t delay), i.e. about one hour of my (doctor’s) time, and staff tells me she spent about an hour on this as well, so 2 hours of the clinic’s time to get “approval” for a test that any 4th year med student would immediately know needs done, and needs done now. And 2 hours we did not do anything remotely resembling anything productive to patient care.

If you wonder why you can’t get into your doctor for days or weeks, and why it costs a fortune, look no further. This happens all day, every day, in every doctor’s office across America.

Next patient…never mind, I’m going to take an aspirin and lie down for a few minutes.

The Ho$pice Hu$tle?

What’s going on with the recent flurry of acquisitions and divestment in the Hospice industry. IP4P asked HIT-industry veteran Barbara Duck (@MedicalQuack) to weigh in:

“Optum certainly kept this very quiet when they sold their hospice facilities to Compassus; however, they are not out of the business, they want to manage it instead, just as they manage surgeons and physicians with Surgical Care Affiliates and OptumCare doctors.  The worst nightmare for those in hospice has come true, the thought of Optum utilization managers running around Compassus Hospice facilities as they intend now to use Optum Hospice Services to manage them.  Hospice care by the algorithms is what we are looking at here with even more undue and not proven analytical scoring of patients taking place at their last days of their lives.  I think the screen from the PowerPoint presentation on the revenue growth here tells the story of what this company’s (Compassus) goals are, revenue and not patient care being the first priority. Continue reading

PBMs Invade Medical Records and Cash-Pay RX Discount Cards

We wrap up 2017 with a guest post from friend of IP4PI Barbara Duck (@MedicalQuack):

This should not really come as a big surprise as what hasn’t the pharmacy benefit managment business touched?  So what is OptimizeRX?  Most have probably not heard of this software but it is a connect to EMRs that will send your prescription right to the pharmacy.  Oh, now you say, well imagethe PBMs do that and they do but what they have been missing is a way to collect data on patients who are not using their PBM prescription card or those who do not have one.  It’s all about getting more data about you to “score” and of course sell those scores to insurers and other interested parties.  Once the pharmacy has the transaction, it does not fall under HIPAA rules as it’s a prescription, linked to an EMR to provide a transaction.  As we all know, your medications in an EHR are protected but again, I’ll repeat this for those who still think HIPAA is covered at the pharmacy, it is not.  It’s been a sore spot for years with privacy. Continue reading