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Medicare Part D redesign could reboot U.S. prescription drug market for cancer drugs, making pricing more value-based

Lyfegen Editorial Team

With passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the Medicare Part D (outpatient drug benefit) will be undergoing a comprehensive redesign, which will be implemented in 2025. There will be a dramatic shift towards payer responsibility of costs, particularly in the catastrophic phase of the Medicare Part D benefit.


Currently, during the calendar year there are four phases a Medicare beneficiary goes through when obtaining coverage of outpatient drugs: Deductible, initial coverage, coverage gap, and catastrophic. Here, catastrophic refers to the point when a beneficiary’s total prescription drug costs for a calendar year have reached a set maximum level. At present, the catastrophic threshold is set at $7,100. In a given year, once beneficiaries hit the threshold they will have spent $3,250 out of pocket, at which point they begin paying 5% co-insurance in the catastrophic phase.

Over a five-year period from 2016 to 2021, nearly three million enrollees in Medicare Part D spent above the catastrophic threshold at least once. And, currently more than 1.5 million beneficiaries are in the catastrophic phase. That number is expected to grow steadily in the coming years. Moreover, at present, spending in the catastrophic phase now accounts for about 45% of total Medicare Part D expenditures.

The redesigned Medicare Part D benefit features a $2,000 hard cap on beneficiary out-of-pocket spending. At the same time, there will be a massive shift in cost management liability in the catastrophic phase. Currently, Medicare picks up the tab for 80% of costs in the catastrophic phase (the government is essentially the reinsurer in the catastrophic phase); plans, 15%; and beneficiaries, 5%. In the restructured Part D benefit, starting in 2025, the drug manufacturer will be responsible for 20% of catastrophic costs; plans, 60%; Medicare, 20%; and Medicare beneficiaries, 0%.

This $2,000 cap will obviously reduce Medicare beneficiaries’ financial burden considerably, especially those who are prescribed high-priced specialty cancer drugs, many of which put them in the catastrophic phase by the end of January in a given year, with no limit on out-of-pocket expenditures. In all probability, the $2,000 cap will lead to more utilization of specialty drugs and better patient adherence.

The Part D overhaul will also force payers and drug makers to rethink their strategies vis-à-vis cancer drug pricing and reimbursement. Payers will have to strike a harder bargain with drug makers when purchasing specialty pharmaceuticals. As payers won’t be able to fully offset their higher burden of cost management by raising premiums – there will be a 6% annual cap on premium increases. There will very likely be increased use of utilization management tools. And, perhaps most importantly, a more competitive market with more use of utilization management tools, such as prior authorization, step edits, and quantity limits. Also more use of outcomes-based pricing models. Partnering with Lyfegen may be the solution for manufacturers and payers alike, as its platform can put users on the right track towards successful implementation of value-based pricing arrangements.

Historically, as new checkpoint inhibitors, anti-PD-1 and PD-L1 agents, have gained approval – such as Jemperli (dostarlimab) in April of 2021 - price competition has not been a factor. This is extraordinarily unusual, given how relatively crowded the various oncology indications targeted by checkpoint inhibitors have become; from breast, renal, and colorectal cancer, to melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer. Several companies, including traditional ones like Lilly but also new entrants such as EQRx, are seeking to disrupt this space by offering lower-priced alternatives.

Outside the U.S., oncology drug pricing is generally heavily regulated. And, we observe that certain drugs may not be reimbursed by government (monopsonist) purchasers if there isn’t sufficient clinical benefit to justify the price. Moreover, in international markets, outcome- or value-based pricing strategies for cancer drugs are commonplace, which they aren’t yet in the U.S.

However, Medicare Part D restructuring alters the competitive landscape considerably. For high-priced specialty pharmaceuticals, in particular, it will become increasingly important for payers to contain costs by way of utilization management, promote the use of generics and biosimilars, and negotiate value-based prices. The Lyfegen Platform enables more efficient and transparent management of value-based drug pricing contracts by using intelligent algorithms to capture and analyze patient-level drug cost data.

About the author

Cohen is a health economist with more than 25 years of experience analyzing, publishing, and presenting on drug and diagnostic pricing and reimbursement, as well as healthcare policy reform initiatives. For 21 years, Cohen was an academic at Tufts University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Amsterdam. Currently, and for the past five years, Cohen is an independent healthcare analyst on a variety of research, teaching, speaking, editing, and writing projects.


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