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Doctors say how ACA drug benefits can be strengthened

The proposal's attempt to encourage more generous drug coverage minimums still falls short, organized medicine says, pointing to Medicare Part D as a better standard.

By — Posted Jan. 7, 2013

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Organized medicine groups said a proposed federal rule defining benefits requirements under the health system reform law might not provide sufficient prescription drug coverage for patients with chronic conditions. The associations suggested that Medicare's drug benefit, which contains some additional patient protections and has a broader list of covered medications, should serve as a model for formularies offered by insurance plans under the law.

Starting in 2014, qualified plans on health insurance exchanges and some plans outside of the exchanges will be required to cover essential health benefits packages composed of 10 broad categories of services. Each state must choose a benchmark plan from a selection of popular plans in its jurisdiction to determine its essential health benefits package. Many to date have selected the largest small-group plans in their states to serve as their benchmark plans.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a proposed rule in November 2012 to set policies for states on these benefits, as well as to establish actuarial values for covered plan benefits and accreditation standards for qualified plans on the insurance exchanges. Comments on the proposed rule were due Dec. 26, 2012. In recent guidance, the Dept. of Health and Human Services said it planned to issue a final rule on these provisions of the Affordable Care Act in early 2013.

The rule largely codified initial federal guidance issued in 2011, except that it broadened provisions on prescription drug coverage. Instead of just covering a minimum of one drug per therapeutic class, affected health plans would be required to cover the same number of drugs as a state's benchmark plan. In the event the benchmark doesn't cover any medications in a particular class, plans would need to cover at least one drug in that class.

The revision is more generous than what initially was proposed, opening up the possibility for states “to choose plans that would require two or more drugs in each class,” the Alliance of Specialty Medicine wrote in comments to CMS in late December 2012. But it still would leave room for plans to cover an arbitrary number of drugs, offering no guarantee that patients with serious chronic conditions would have access to the medications they need, the alliance stated.

In particular, the rule falls short of what's offered under Medicare Part D, where all drugs in certain key categories must be covered to prevent insurer discrimination against beneficiaries with significant health care needs, according to the alliance's comments. “Patients may need access to more than one medication from the same class at the same time,” it said.

James L. Madara, MD, executive vice president and CEO of the American Medical Association, gave similar advice about using Part D as a coverage model in the AMA's comment letter to CMS. “Under Medicare Part D, CMS may require more than two drugs for particular categories or classes if additional drugs present unique and important therapeutic advantages in terms of safety and efficacy,” he wrote. Beneficiaries with certain diseases might be discouraged from enrolling in a plan if drugs of this type were absent from the plan's formulary, he stated.

Part D formularies must include “all or substantially all drugs within the immunosuppressant, antidepressant, antipsychotic, anticonvulsant, antiretroviral and antineoplastic classes,” Dr. Madara wrote. The AMA recommended that CMS use the Part D formulary as a template for those six classes of drugs, and that qualified health plans should update their formularies based on methods used by Part D and the private insurance market.

The specialists' alliance requested that all plans be required to meet Part D's standards to ensure adequate drug coverage for newly insured people under the ACA, both through private insurance and Medicaid.

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AMA requests for essential health benefits

The American Medical Association called for several revisions to a proposed rule that would set policies for states on the Affordable Care Act's essential health benefits provision. The AMA honed in on children's benefits and the scope of the rule's prescription drug coverage. The Association said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services should:

Source: Comments on CMS proposed regulation on Standards Related to Essential Health Benefits, Actuarial Value, and Accreditation, American Medical Association, Dec. 21, 2012

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