On October 15, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled its proposed rule requiring direct-to-consumer television advertisements for prescription drug and biological products to contain the list price (defined as the Wholesale Acquisition Cost) if the product is reimbursable by Medicare or Medicaid. Medical devices are not included in the proposed rule, although CMS seeks comment on how advertised drugs should be treated if used in combination with a non-advertised device. If finalized, the requirement will be sweeping and only purports to exclude products costing under $35 per month for a 30-day supply or a typical course of treatment.

CMS prescribes specific language for manufacturers to use at the end of an advertisement:

The list price for a [30-day supply of ] [typical course of treatment with] [name of prescription drug or biological product] is [insert list price]. If you have health insurance that covers drugs, your cost may be different.

The list price is determined “on the first day of the quarter during which the advertisement is being aired or otherwise broadcast.” This pricing statement must be legible, “placed appropriately against a contrasting background for sufficient duration,” and must be in an easily read font and size. Manufacturers are permitted under the proposed rule, “[t]o the extent permissible under current laws,” to include a competitor’s current product list price, so long as the disclosure is done in a “truthful, non-misleading way.”

CMS proposes that drug and biological products in violation of the proposed rule would be publically listed on its website. Although CMS acknowledged that it was proposing no other HHS-specific enforcement mechanisms, CMS anticipates an influx in private actions under the Lanham Act as the primary enforcement mechanism if the proposed rule is finalized.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar emphasized the proposed rule’s intent to mitigate consumer out-of-pocket costs and reduce unnecessary Medicare and Medicaid expenditures. Interested stakeholders can submit comments online to the regulations.gov docket or by mail until December 17, 2018.

On October 10, 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law the “Know the Lowest Price Act” and the “Patients’ Right to Know Drug Prices Act,” which aim to improve consumer access to drug price information by banning gag clauses. The Trump administration previously announced its intention to enact this legislation in its May 2018 Blueprint to Lower Drug Prices and Reduce Out-of-Pocket Costs and will likely point to these new federal laws as affirmation of its commitment to drug pricing reform that favors patients and consumers.

These bills—one of which applies to Medicare and the other to commercial insurance plans—ban “gag order” clauses in contracts between pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers (“PBMs”) that are designed to prevent pharmacists from disclosing to a patient at the pharmacy point of sale whether or not a drug’s cash price would be lower than the patient’s cost-sharing burden under his or her insurance plan. Pharmacies that had violated contractual gag orders have traditionally risked losing their network contracts with PBMs or faced other sanctions. Under these new federal laws, pharmacists are not required to disclose information about lower costs but cannot be contractually obligated to keep quiet regarding possible patient cost savings. The bill affecting Medicare beneficiaries will go into effect on January 1, 2020, while the bill banning “gag order” clauses for commercial insurance contracts took effect immediately upon signing by President Trump.

These new federal bans on pharmacy gag clauses represent a significant reform at the federal level and a victory for pharmacy interests, which have long decried these clauses as unfairly intruding into pharmacy practice. This federal reform has broad bipartisan support, as reflected by the Senate’s passage of the bills by a resounding vote of 98-2. Thus, in contrast to some of the other proposed reforms in the Trump administration’s Blueprint, including PBM fiduciary duties and restrictions on manufacturer rebates, the gag clause issue represents “low-hanging fruit” for the administration’s efforts at drug pricing reform.

While these new federal laws will ensure and promote transparency between pharmacists and patients and the potentially improved disclosure of pricing information, it is unclear whether these new federal laws will dramatically reduce costs for consumers. Some industry observers have questioned whether PBMs still routinely impose “gag order” clauses in pharmacy agreements and the extent to which they are actually enforced by the PBM and adhered to by a pharmacy. In a statement to CNN,[1] Mark Merritt, president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, said that “gag order” clauses are “very much an outlier.” Likewise, a spokesman for Express Scripts, the nation’s largest PBM, expressed support for the ban and noted that Express Scripts does not engage in this “anti-consumer practice.”[2] Additionally, many states already had passed their own laws banning “gag order” clauses in the past two years, meaning that many PBMs operating across state lines already had begun to reduce their use of gag orders in order to comply with these state laws.[3] Further, the legislation does not directly regulate the actual pricing of prescription drugs.

These new federal laws will provide the Trump administration and members of Congress with an important talking point during these 2018 midterm elections. In the meantime, industry observers are closely monitoring other developments relating to the Blueprint and whether additional, and perhaps more controversial, reforms will be implemented in the near future.

____

[1] Vazquez, Maegan, Trump signs bills aimed at increasing drug price transparency, CNN (Oct. 10, 2018) https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/10/politics/drug-prices-legislation-signed-into-law-donald-trump/index.html.

[2] Firozi, Paulina, The Health 202: ‘Gag clauses’ mean you might be paying more for prescription drugs than you need to, Wash. Post (July 5, 2018) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-health-202/2018/07/05/the-health-202-gag-clauses-mean-you-might-be-paying-more-for-prescription-drugs-than-you-need-to/5b3a36ca1b326b3348addc4a/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f724b985ae49.

[3] See, e.g., Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 24-a, § 4317(13); Va. Code Ann. § 38.2-3464.

The Florida State Legislature has decided to eliminate its state licensure requirement for clinical laboratories.  Effective July 1, 2018, Florida’s recent legislation (SB 622) repeals the entirety of Chapter 483, Part I of the Florida statutes, and in doing so removes the state licensure requirement for clinical laboratories operating in-state and out-of-state.  Section 97 of SB 622, approved by the Governor on March 19, 2018, repeals the entirety of Chapter 483, Part I of the Florida statutes, and therefore, in tow, eliminates section 59A-7.024(1) and as well as all other corresponding regulations.

Currently, all clinical laboratories providing services within the state of Florida must maintain a state license unless you were either: (1) a clinical laboratory operated by the U.S. government; (2) a clinical laboratory that only performed waived tests; or (3) a clinical laboratory that was operated and maintained exclusively for research and teaching purposes that did not provide services to patients.  Furthermore, an out-of-state laboratory testing specimens derived from the state of Florida is also required to obtain Florida state licensure if: (1) the out-of-state laboratory maintains an office, specimen collection station or other facility within the state of Florida (Fla. Adm. Code 59A-7.024); or (2) receives a specimen for examination from a clinical laboratory located within the state of Florida (Fla. Stat. § 483.091).

Beginning July 1, 2018, clinical laboratories and stakeholders will be able to provide their laboratory services in Florida or to Florida healthcare providers as long as they meet federal CLIA certification requirements.  Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) expects to roll-out notifications regarding the change in state licensure requirements to currently licensed clinical laboratories in approximately two weeks and will post notice on its website.

In yet another development on the fight to address the opioid epidemic, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Tuesday, April 17th that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) amending the controlled substance quota requirements in 21 C.F.R. Part 1303. The Proposed Rule was published in the Federal Register yesterday and seeks to limit manufacturers’ annual production of opioids in certain circumstances to “strengthen controls over diversion of controlled substances” and to “make other improvements in the quota management regulatory system for the production, manufacturing, and procurement of controlled substances.”[1]

Under the proposed rule, the DEA will consider the extent to which a drug is diverted for abuse when setting annual controlled substance production limits. If the DEA determines that a particular controlled substance or a particular company’s drugs are continuously diverted for misuse, the DEA would have the authority to reduce the allowable production amount for a given year. The objective is that the imposition of such limitations will “encourage vigilance on the part of opioid manufacturers” and incentivize them to take responsibility for how their drugs are used.

The proposed changes to 21 C.F.R. Part 1303 are fairly broad, but could lead to big changes in opioid manufacture if implemented. We have summarized the relevant changes below.

Section 1303.11: Aggregate Production Quotas

Section 1303.11 currently allows the DEA Administrator to use discretion in determining the quota of schedule I and II controlled substances for a given calendar year by weighing five factors, including total net disposal and net disposal trends, inventories and inventory trends, demand, and other factors that the DEA Administrator deems relevant. Now, the proposed rule seeks to add two additional factors to this list, including consideration of the extent to which a controlled substance is diverted, and consideration of U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and state data on legitimate and illegitimate controlled substance use. Notably, the proposed rule allows states to object to proposed, potentially excessive aggregate production quota and allows for a hearing when necessary to resolve an issue of material fact raised by a state’s objection.

Section 1303.12 and 1303.22: Procurement Quotas and Procedure for Applying for Individual Manufacturing Quotas

Sections 1303.12 and 13030.22 currently require controlled substance manufactures and individual manufacturing quota applicants to provide the DEA with its intended opioid purpose, the quantity desired, and the actual quantities used during the current and preceding two calendar years. The DEA Administrator uses this information to issue procurement quotas through 21 C.F.R. § 1303.12 and individual manufacturing quotas through 21 C.F.R. § 1303.22. The proposed rule’s amendments would explicitly state that the DEA Administrator may require additional information from both manufacturers and individual manufacturing quota applicants to help detect or prevent diversion. Such information may include customer identities and the amounts of the controlled substances sold to each customer. As noted, the DEA Administrator already can and does request additional information of this nature from current quota applicants. The proposed rule would only provide the DEA Administrator with express regulatory authority to require such information if needed.

Section 1303.13: Adjustments of Aggregate Production Quotas

Section 1303.13 allows the DEA administrator to increase or reduce the aggregate production quotas for basic classes of controlled substances at any time. The proposed rule would allow the DEA Administrator to weigh a controlled substance’s diversion potential, require transmission of adjustment notices and final adjustment orders to a state’s attorney general, and provide a hearing if necessary to resolve material factual issues raise by a state’s objection to a proposed, potentially excessive adjusted quota.

Section 1303.23: Procedures for Fixing Individual Manufacturing Quotas

The proposed rule seeks to amend Section 1303.23 to deem the extent and risk of diversion of controlled substances as relevant factors in the DEA Administrator’s decision to fix individual manufacturing quotas. According to the proposed rule, the DEA has always considered “all available information” in fixing and adjusting the aggregate production quota, or fixing an individual manufacturing quota for a controlled substance. As such, while the proposed rule’s amendment may require manufacturers to provide the DEA with additional information for consideration, it is not expected to have any adverse economic impact or consequences.

Section 1303.32: Purpose of Hearing 

Section 1303.32 currently grants the DEA Administrator to hold a hearing for the purpose of receiving factual evidence regarding issues related to a manufacturer’s aggregate production quota. The proposed rule would amend this section to conform to the amendments to sections 1303.11 and 1303.13 discussed herein, allowing the DEA Administrator to explicitly hold a hearing if he/she deems a hearing to be necessary under sections 1303.11(c) or 1303.13(c) based on a state’s objection to a proposed aggregate production quota.

Industry stakeholders will have an opportunity to submit comments for consideration by the DEA by May 4, 2018.

[1] DEA, NPRM 21 C.F.R. Part 1303 (Apr. 17, 2018).

Over the past week, the White House administration (the “Administration”) has issued two documents addressing drug pricing. First, on February 9, 2018, the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers released a white paper titled “Reforming Biopharmaceutical Pricing at Home and Abroad” (the “White Paper”).  Second, on February 12, 2018, the Administration issued its 2019 Budget Proposal (“2019 Budget”).

Whereas the recommendations set forth in the White Paper are more conceptual or exploratory, the 2019 Budget purportedly reflects the Administration’s more specific priorities for 2019. The developments are significant because, after outspoken pledges to reduce drug prices over a year ago, the White Paper and the 2019 Budget, taken together, are the Administration’s first attempt to set forth its drug pricing policy framework.

FY 2019 Budget Proposal Outline

The Administration’s 2019 Budget proposes strategies to address drug pricing reform in several areas.

  • Medicaid: The 2019 Budget proposes for new Medicaid demonstration authority to allow five states to test drug coverage and financing reform. Under this demonstration, instead of participating in the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program, these states would determine their own drug formularies and negotiate drug prices directly with manufacturers, with the resulting negotiated prices being exempt from Best Price.
  • Medicare Part B: With respect to the Medicare program, the 2019 Budget provides several proposals. First, the 2019 Budget would require all manufacturers of Part B drugs to report average sales price (“ASP”) data, and to penalize those who do not report ASP data. Additionally, the 2019 Budget proposes to limit the increase in ASP-based drug payment to the annual rate of inflation. For drugs reimbursed based on wholesale acquisition cost (“WAC”) rather than ASP, the 2019 Budget proposes to reduce this payment rate from 106% of WAC down to 103% of WAC. The 2019 Budget also proposes to modify reimbursement to hospitals for drugs acquired at 340B discounts by rewarding hospitals that provide charity care, and reducing payments to hospitals that provide little to no charity care. The 2019 Budget proposes to consolidate certain drugs covered under Part B into Part D coverage.
  • Medicare Part D: For beneficiaries enrolled in Part D plans, the 2019 Budget proposes to establish an out-of-pocket maximum in the catastrophic coverage phase, eliminate cost-sharing for generic drugs for low-income seniors, and permanently authorize a Part D demonstration that provides retroactive and point-of-sale coverage to certain low-income patients.
  • FDA: The 2019 Budget proposes to give the FDA greater ability to bring generics to market more quickly. If a first-to-file generic application is not yet approved due to deficiencies, the 2019 Budget proposes to allow the FDA to tentatively approve a subsequent generic application rather than waiting for the first-to-file application to amend its application deficiencies.

Council of Economic Advisers White Paper

The White Paper discusses options for drug pricing reforms that would impact Medicaid, Medicare, the 340B drug discount program, and FDA. The following provides a summary of the major ideas proposed in the White Paper:

  • Medicaid: The White Paper contends that the determination of Best Price on a single unit of drug under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program operates as an inducement to manufacturers to inflate commercial prices. The White Paper posits that CMS could revise the applicable rules for Best Price without conflicting with the statutory language, such that Best Price could be determined post-sale based on “the patient’s recovery”, i.e., the health outcome or effectiveness of the drug. The White Paper suggests that more clarity from CMS on value-based contracting would encourage drug purchasers to negotiate for lower prices.
  • Medicare Part B: With respect to drugs reimbursable under Medicare Part B, the White Paper focuses on expensive specialty drugs and biologics administered by physicians. The White Paper contends that due to the cost-plus reimbursement methodology under Medicare Part B (ASP plus 6 per cent), physicians do not have incentives to prescribe cheaper medications to control costs. The White Paper cites solutions proposed by MedPAC and other government agencies to realign incentives including: (i) introducing physician reimbursement that is not tied to drug prices, (ii) moving Medicare Part B drug coverage into Medicare Part D, where price-competition over drug prices is better structured, and (iii) changing how pricing data is reported to increase transparency.
  • Medicare Part D: The White Paper scrutinizes the Part D program as being structured in a manner that prevents pricing competition and causes “perverse incentives.” Specifically, the White Paper suggests that Part D’s requirement to cover at least two non-therapeutically equivalent products within each class and category prevents Part D sponsors from competitively negotiating lower prices and that the prohibition of formulary tier-based cost-sharing for low income beneficiaries creates a disincentive to use “high value” rather than high cost drugs. In addition, the White Paper states that since the 50% discount drug manufacturers are required to provide during the coverage gap is applied to the patient’s true out-of-pocket costs, enrollees have an incentive to use high cost drugs while in the coverage gap.In addition to making the specific observations above, the White Paper cites more general options proposed by MedPAC, OIG and other government agencies to address “misaligned incentives”: (i) requiring plans to share drug manufacturer discounts with patients, (ii) allowing plans to manage formularies to negotiate better prices for patients, (iii) lowering co-pays for generic drugs for patients; and (iv) discouraging plan formulary design that speeds patients to the catastrophic coverage phase of benefit and increases overall spending.
  • 340B Drug Discount Program: The White Paper posits that there are two significant issues with the 340B Program. The first is “imprecise eligibility criteria has allowed for significant program growth beyond the intended purpose of the program.” The second is the use of program revenue for purposes other than providing care for low-income patients, which is what the Administration believes was originally intended. While not providing specifics, the White Paper suggests establishing “more precise” eligibility criteria as an alternative to the DSH percentage currently used to establish hospital eligibility, and requiring that the 340B discount more directly benefit poor patient populations.
  • FDA: The White Paper suggests modifying the existing FDA criteria for expedited review to include new molecular entities that are second or third in a class, or second or third for a given indication for which there are no generic competitors. The White Paper states that this would reduce the time period a particular drug would be able to benefit from a higher price before facing generic competition. The White Paper also suggests policies aimed at reducing the cost of innovation, including having the FDA continue to facilitate the validation and qualification of new drug development tools that allow manufacturers to demonstrate safety and efficacy more efficiently and earlier, and speeding up the issuance of FDA final guidelines to add certainty and attract additional biosimilar applicants to the marketplace.
  • Pharmacy Benefit Managers: The White Paper scrutinizes the PBM industry as having “outsized profits” due to the high concentration of the PBM market (3 PBMs account for 85% of the market) and criticizes the lack of transparency with respect to the rebates that PBMs receive. The White Paper states that the “undue market power” causes manufacturers to set artificially high list prices, which are reduced via rebates to PBMs without reducing the costs to consumers. The White Paper suggests that policies to decrease concentration in the PBM market could reduce the price of drugs paid by consumers.
  • Drug Pricing in Foreign Countries: The White Paper discusses in detail how the United States bears a disproportionate share of the burden of the cost of innovation, since foreign governments, in exercising price control, are able to set drug prices lower than that in the United States. The White Paper suggests drug pricing reform abroad with the United States changing the incentives of foreign governments to price drugs at levels that reward innovation. The White Paper broadly suggests achieving this goal through enhanced trade policy or policies tying reimbursement levels in the United States to prices paid by foreign governments that set lower prices or other methods.

EBG Considerations

The combined result of the 2019 Budget and the White Paper is a hodgepodge of policy ideas that could impact a wide range of government programs and industry stakeholders throughout the drug distribution and reimbursement channel. While the proposals set forth in the 2019 Budget are more specific, the ideas in the White Paper are more conceptual and less developed.  For example, policies to address the high concentration of the PBM market and foreign government drug price control appear more aspirational and lack detail on what such policies would entail or how they would be accomplished.  This suggests that, while the 2019 Budget and White Paper are indicative of the Administration’s direction with respect to drug pricing policy, the policy is likely still a “work in progress” and subject to further development.

We will continue to report on how these ideas take shape in this Administration.

At this point, it’s not really ground-breaking news that America has a problem with opioid drugs. By way of anecdote, when I became a federal prosecutor in 2011, the last heroin case that had been prosecuted in the Nashville U.S. Attorney’s office was in the early-1990s; although, to be fair, there were then lots of what we called “pill” cases involving opioids. When I left the office in 2017, at least half of the office’s major investigations were directly related to opioids–some pills, but mostly outright heroin or fentanyl/carfentanyl . In Nashville, Tennessee, OxyContin (which is an opioid-based painkiller) can be worth up to $1.25/milligram (mg). That means that just one 80mg OxyContin has a street value of $100. Price, is of course, a reflection of demand and demand, in this case, is driven by addiction.

That addiction is costing Americans a lot of money. The White House estimates that in 2015, over 33,000 Americans died from opioid related overdoses and that the economic cost of the opioid crisis was $504.0 billion, or 2.8% of GDP. To put that in some perspective, 2015 U.S. healthcare spending accounted for 17.7% of GDP, which means that Americans spent ~1/6 as much on opioids as they did on healthcare. State governments, often stuck footing the bill for indigent addicts because of increased law-enforcement activity and drug/medical treatment, are looking at the opioid manufacturers and distributors to help pay some of this cost.

In September, 41 state attorneys general announced serving subpoenas on 6 opioid manufacturers as part of a multi-state investigation into whether the companies engaged in any unlawful practices in the marketing and distribution of prescription opioids. The attorneys general are also looking into the distribution practices of 3 pharmaceutical distributors that account for the distribution of roughly 90% of the U.S. opioid supply. According the N.Y. State AG, opioid distributors alone make nearly $500 billion a year in revenue, but those numbers (perhaps as a result of the market response to the negative publicity generated by all of this) might not be as robust as they once were. Stock prices (many of these companies are privately held) for two of the manufacturers subject to the AG subpoenas have seen stocks nose dive by ~90% and ~75% respectively after both achieving all-time highs in 2015. Of course, the reason for those drops is likely non-singular, but the timing does perhaps signal the market’s appetite for risk.

So, obviously, if you are an AG looking to combat a public health disaster, going after the manufacturers of opioids (who, at least in 2015, had lots of money), much like the manufacturers of tobacco is pretty appealing. That said, there are some considerations that are likely to be major impediments in the effort to make this into a big tobacco settlement:

  1. Prescription pills are prescribed by a medical doctor. Unlike the pack of cigarettes bought at the gas station from a clerk whose only responsibility is to verify age, opioids are, ostensibly, ordered by someone with years of advanced medical training. Pinning all the responsibility (or even just “most of it”) on manufacturers and distributors alone will be a challenge.
  2. The success of the tobacco litigation was driven in no small part by the efforts of Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, the exceptionally well-connected Mississippi lawyer who spearheaded the class-action effort and coalesced all the states into letting him be the point-man for all negotiations. Much of what made Scruggs successful in that effort–1) the self-proclaimed advantage of home cookin‘; 2) the ability to wheel and deal in the Capital thanks to his access to then Senate Majority Leader, and brother-in-law, Trent Lott; 3) the close relationship with then Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore (who, coincidentally, is advocating for the opioid suit, this time as a plaintiff’s attorney)–is unlikely to fly in today’s world given the guttural uneasiness associated with any of the tactics utilized by Scruggs, now a convicted felon for attempting to bribe a judge in a post-Katrina litigation, and overall discomfort with anything that smacks of nepotism.
  3. The stated goal of many of the proponents of the tobacco litigation was to put cigarette manufacturers out of business–this, of course, is a sentiment still voiced by some. But, no one is realistically seeking to litigate these pharmaceutical companies into the ground. While these companies manufacture opioids, they also research and manufacture drugs that help treat pediatric Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, among others. Simply, even if there is a settlement in all of this, the reality is that the settlement is likely to contemplate the ability of these companies to continue to research and manufacture the next wave of pharmaceutical improvements.

In an Advisory Opinion dated October 20, 2017, to Crouse Health Hospital (“Crouse Hospital”), the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) agreed that the Non-Profit Institutions Act (“NPIA”) would protect the sale of discounted drugs from Crouse Hospital to the employees, retirees, and their dependents of an affiliated medical practice (Crouse Medical Practice, PLLC) (“Medical Practice”) from antitrust liability under the Robinson-Patman Act.  Significantly, the FTC provided this advice despite the fact that the Medical Practice is a for-profit entity, and is not owned by Crouse Hospital.

The Robinson-Patman Act is primarily a consumer protection statute that prohibits, among other things, discrimination in the sale of like kind products, including pharmaceuticals, to different buyers.  As a result, and absent some exemption, the resale of discounted drugs purchased by a not-for-profit hospital to its patients would be subject to challenge.

The NPIA, however, exempts from the reach of the Robinson-Patman Act the sale of discounted drugs to “schools, colleges, universities, public libraries, churches, hospitals, and charitable institutions not operated for profit,” provided those drugs are purchased for that entity’s “own use”.  15 U.S.C.A. § 13(f). The Supreme Court, in Abbott Laboratories v. Portland Retail Druggists Ass’n, 425 U.S. 1 (1976), defined “own use” to mean “what reasonably may be regarded as use by the hospital in the sense that such use is a part of and promotes the hospital’s intended institutional operation in the care of persons who are its patients.”  Id. at 14.  The Supreme Court went on to conclude, among other things,  that the resale of discounted drugs to a hospital’s employees and their dependents would qualify as the hospital’s “own use.”  The FTC, in a number of prior Advisory Opinions, further extended the application of the NPIA to the sale of discounted drugs to employees of hospital affiliates, and other similar entities.  However, those entities were generally not-for-profit entities, likely eligible for protection under the NPIA on their own, and owned and/or controlled by the hospital.

The Advisory Opinion to Crouse Hospital is unique in that the Medical Practice is a for profit entity and clearly would not be eligible for protection on its own under the NPIA.  Furthermore, the Medical Practice is not directly owned by Crouse Hospital calling into question whether the resale could qualify as the hospital’s “own use” as required by the NPIA.

Despite these facts, the FTC concluded that NPIA should apply to the resale of discounted drugs to the employees, retirees, and their dependents of the Medical Group because: 1) Crouse Hospital was responsible for the formation of the Medical Practice and did so “to develop an integrated medical service system to encourage both organizations to work together to improve care and promote the charitable purposes of Course Hospital”; 2) Crouse Hospital, despite not owning the Medical Practice, still had ultimate decision-making control and authority over the Medical Practice; and, 3) all profits earned by the Medical Practice were assigned to Crouse Hospital.  Based on these factors, the FTC determined that “Crouse Medical Practice is an integral part of Crouse Hospital’s ability to fulfill its intended institutional function of providing care and promoting community health,” and, therefore, the resale was for Crouse Hospital’s own use.

Hospitals and health systems should take note that simply because an affiliate is a for profit entity does not automatically mean NPIA protection does not apply. A deeper look into the relationship between the hospital and affiliate, and consideration of the affiliate’s mission may support an extension of the NPIA.

On November 1, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service (“CMS”) released the Medicare Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System (“OPPS”) final rule (“Final Rule”), finalizing a Medicare payment reduction from Average Sales Price (“ASP”) + 6% to ASP – 22.5%, for 340B discounted drugs in the hospital outpatient setting, as was proposed in the OPPS proposed rule earlier this year. This payment reduction is effective January 1, 2018, and would primarily impact disproportionate share hospitals, rural referral centers, and non-rural sole community hospitals.

340B Program Generally

The 340B program, established by section 340B of the Public Health Service Act by the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992, generally allows for certain eligible health care providers (“Covered Entities”) to purchase outpatient drugs at discounted prices. The 340B program is administered by Health Resources and Services Administration (“HRSA”).

CMS Policy Background for the Final Rule

In response to reports of the growth of 340B drug utilization by hospital providers, as well as the recent trends in high and growing prices of several separately payable drugs administered under Part B, CMS reexamined the appropriateness of the ASP +6% payment methodology to 340B drugs. This policy change as finalized would allow the Medicare program and beneficiaries to pay less for outpatient drugs, in a way that more closely aligns Medicare payment for 340B drugs to the resources expended by hospitals in acquiring such drugs. Additionally, CMS did not believe that beneficiaries should be responsible for a copayment rate tied to ASP + 6% when the actual cost to acquire the drug under the 340B program is much lower than the ASP for the drug.

340B Drug Payment Reduction

Under the Medicare program, CMS generally reimburses separately payable outpatient drugs and biologics based upon a drug’s ASP as reported by its manufacturer, plus a 6% markup, regardless of whether the drug is purchased at a 340B discount price. Drugs that are not separately payable are packaged into the payment for the associated procedure and no separate payment is made for them.

Effective January 1, 2018, CMS will reduce this payment rate to ASP – 22.5% for non-pass-through separately payable drugs and biologics acquired with a 340B discount. Excluded from this payment reduction are drugs or biologics that have pass-through payment status (which are required to be paid under the ASP + 6% methodology), or vaccines (which are excluded from the 340B program). In the proposed rule, CMS contemplated excluding blood clotting factors and radiopharmaceuticals from this payment reduction, however, CMS has decided to subject these two product types to the new policy. CMS noted that this ASP – 22.5% payment rate is based upon a 2015 MedPAC report in which MedPAC estimated that, on average, hospitals in the 340B Program “receive a minimum discount of 22.5 percent of the [ASP] for drugs paid under the [OPPS].”

Certain types of hospitals will not be affected by the change. CMS has exempted Covered Entities that are rural sole community hospitals, children’s hospitals, and cancer hospitals from this 340B drug payment reduction policy. Additionally, critical access hospitals are not affected by this policy because they are not paid under the OPPS. CMS has stated this payment reduction does not apply to 340B drugs furnished at non-excepted off-campus provider based departments.

To implement this payment reduction, CMS will be utilizing a claims modifier to track whether a drug is a 340B-acquired drug, and another claims modifier for whether the Covered Entity is exempt from this payment reduction policy. Hospitals will be required to report modifier “JG” with the associated nonpass-through separately payable drug’s HCPCS code to identify whether the drug was acquired with a 340B discount. The rural sole community hospitals, children’s hospitals, and cancer hospitals exempt from this payment reduction policy will be required to report the modifier “TB” with the associated HCPCS code of the 340B-acquired drug.

Additional Considerations

It is important to note that this new payment reduction policy generally does not apply to 340B drugs dispensed at contract pharmacies. Drugs reimbursed under the Medicare OPPS are generally physician administered drugs, whereas drugs dispensed at a contract pharmacy are generally self-administered retail drugs. Furthermore, this payment reduction policy does not affect 340B drug reimbursement for non-hospital Covered Entities, such as Federally Qualified Health Centers and Ryan White Grantees.

While HRSA manages the 340B program, this payment reduction is specifically for drugs reimbursed under the Medicare program. Accordingly, this policy does not affect reimbursement of 340B drugs by other government or private payers. However, it is possible that the Final Rule may embolden other payers to follow suit by adopting 340B payment reductions similar to CMS.

Organizations representing hospitals already have announced intent to take legal action against this 340B drug payment reduction. This legal action will likely focus on arguments that CMS exceeded its statutory authority in its ability to calculate and adjust 340B acquired drug payment rates, and doing so in a manner that discriminates against safety net hospitals violates the Medicare statutes.

The OPPS Final Rule will be published in the Federal Register on November 13, 2017 and available online at https://federalregister.gov/d/2017-23932. Epstein Becker & Green is available to provide guidance on how this new policy affects you.

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (“Antitrust Division”) released their respective year-end reviews highlighted by aggressive enforcement in the health care industry. The FTC, in particular, indicated that 47% of its enforcement actions during calendar year 2016 took place in the health care industry (including pharmaceuticals and medical devices). Of note were successful challenges to hospital mergers in Pennsylvania (Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Pinnacle Health System), and Illinois (Advocate Health Care Network and North Shore University Health System). In both actions, the FTC was able to convince the court that the merger would likely substantially lessen competition for the provision of general acute-care hospital services in relevant areas in violation of section 7 of the Clayton Act. See FTC v. Penn State Hershey Med. Center, 838 F. 3d 327 (3d Cir. 2016); and FTC v. Advocate Health Care Network et al No. 1:15-cv-11473, 2017 U. S. Dist. LEXIS 37707 (N.D. Ill.Mar. 16, 2017)

The Antitrust Division, in similar fashion, touted its actions to block the mergers of Aetna and Humana, and Anthem and Cigna. Complaints against both mergers were filed simultaneously in July of 2016, and tried before different judges in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia. After extensive trials, Judge Bates blocked the Aetna/Humana deal, and Judge Amy Berman Jackson blocked the Anthem/Cigna transaction. United States v. Aetna Inc., No. 1:16-cv-1494, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8490 (D.D.C. Jan 23, 2017) and United States v. Anthem Inc., No. 1:16-cv-01493, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23614 (D.D.C. Feb8, 2017).

In addition to their enforcement activities, the agencies promoted jointly issued policy guidelines, including their “Antitrust Guidance for Human Resources Professionals.” Although not specific to any industry, this guidance has particular relevance to the health care industry. Among other things, this guidance makes clear that naked wage-fixing (such as the wave of wage fixing claims relating to nurses) and no-poaching agreements (that would include agreements not to hire competing physicians) are not only per se illegal, but also subject to criminal prosecution.

While a marginal enforcement shift may be in store as a result of the change in administration, most signs point to a continued focus on the health care industry. Maureen K. Ohlhausen, appointed by President Trump as acting Chair of the FTC, reiterated in a speech recently delivered at the spring meeting of the American Bar Association’s antitrust section, that “[i]t’s extremely important we continue our enforcement in the health care space.” Likewise the Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition – Abbott (Tad) Lipsky, appointed by Chairman Ohlhausen, applauded the FTC’s success in challenging the Advocate/Northshore Hospital merger noting, in a related FTC press release, that the “merger would likely have reduced the quality, and increased the cost, of health care for residents of the North Shore area of Chicago.”

Makan Delrahim, President Trump’s selection (awaiting confirmation) to head the Antitrust Division, recently lobbied on behalf of Anthem and its efforts to acquire Cigna, and has openly stated with respect to certain announced mergers, that size alone does not create an antitrust problem. Nevertheless, given the political climate and overall impact the health care industry has on the U.S. economy, the Antitrust Division’s efforts to open markets in the health care sector, particularly to generics and new medical technologies by challenging pay for delay deals and scrutinizing unnecessarily restrictive agreements among medical device manufacturers is likely to continue.

A wild card affecting future antitrust enforcement is increasing possibility of passage of the Standard Merger and Acquisitions Review Through Equal Rights Act of 2017 (H.R. 659 a/k/a the “SMARTER ACT”). This bill, recently approved by the House Judiciary Committee, would eliminate the FTC’s administrative adjudication process as it relates to merger enforcement, forcing the FTC to bring all such actions in court. In addition, it would align current preliminary injunction standards such that both the FTC and DOJ would face the same thresholds required of the Clayton Act rather than the more lenient standard under the FTC Act. A similar bill passed the House in 2016, but was not taken up by the Senate.

In a previous blog post, we discussed a City of Chicago Ordinance, set to take effect on July 1, 2017, that will require pharmaceutical sales representatives to obtain a license before being able to operate within city limits. The draft rules for this ordinance were released on March 17, 2017.

These rules provide additional detail regarding the licensure requirements as well as other associated education and disclosure requirements with which pharmaceutical representatives will be expected to comply beginning in July of this year. In order to obtain initial licensure as a pharmaceutical representative, applicants must complete an online course that will provide an overview of these requirements.  Proof of course completion must be submitted along with the license application, which will cost $750.  To maintain the license, representatives must complete a minimum of 5 hours of continuing professional education every year thereafter.  Approved providers will be listed at www.cityofchicago.org/health.  Notably, continuing education provided by pharmaceutical manufacturers to their employees will not be accepted to fulfill the requirement. A licensed representative who does not meet these continuing education requirements may face substantial penalties, including suspension or revocation of the license, inclusion in a public list of representatives whose licenses have been revoked, and/or a fine between $1,000 and $3,000 per day of violation.

In addition to the professional education requirement, pharmaceutical representatives will also be required to track and report certain sales information on an annual basis or upon request by the Commissioner of Public Health. This information must include: a list of the health care professionals who were contacted, the location and duration of each contact, the pharmaceuticals that were promoted, and whether product samples or any other compensation was offered in exchange for the contact.[1]  For applicants who receive initial licensure, the time period for the data that must be collected and reported shall cover an 11-month period, starting on the day of licensure and ending one month before its expiration.  For representatives with a renewed license, the data shall cover a 12-month period that will begin one month before the license renewal and will end one more before its expiration.  If the Commissioner of Public Health requests the information at any other time, the request will designate the time period the submission must cover, and it will be due within 30 days of the request.

A pharmaceutical representative who is found to have violated any provision of the Ordinance or these rules will be subject to suspension or revocation of licensure and/or a fine of $1,000 to $3,000 per day of violation. Once a license is revoked, it cannot be reinstated for a period of two years from the date of revocation.[2]

These new requirements will undoubtedly place a significant burden on pharmaceutical manufacturers and their sales representatives who work in Chicago.[3]  The public is invited to submit any comments it may have on the proposed rules by April 2, 2017.

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[1] Section 4-6-310(g)(1)

[2] Section 4-6-310(j)

[3] The requirements have already drawn considerable criticism from affected members of the pharmaceutical industry, who state that they will impose an unnecessary and harmful tax on one of the most important sectors of the city’s economy.