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Radar On Market Access: Pass-Through Rebate Models Need to Demonstrate Value

Posted by Peter Johnson on Feb 18, 2021

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With the Trump administration's rebate rule delayed and possibly slated for repeal by Democrats in Congress, major changes in how the PBM industry distributes rebate revenue will have to come from the private sector, AIS Health reported.

The Biden administration will suspend implementation until 2023 of the so-called "rebate rule," a Trump administration regulation that would have revamped the Medicare prescription drug rebate system, and DC insiders expect the regulation will be repealed by Congress before then. Meanwhile, a growing number of PBMs that deal in the commercial market have pitched plan sponsors on a 100% pass-through rebate structure, in which the PBM collects its compensation through a fee or surcharges rather than diverting a share of rebate revenue.

Jeff Levin-Scherz, M.D., national co-leader of the health management practice at Willis Towers Watson, says that passed-through rebates can flow in two directions after they are in employers' hands.

"Employers have been moving to pass-through rebates where the PBM will give 100% of the rebate to the employer," which the employer can then spend on its larger medical benefit, lowering premiums, Levin-Scherz says. "Point of care or point of sale rebates are different, where the rebate is essentially put into the purchase price [of a drug]."

Ge Bai, Ph.D., an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University's Carey Business School and Bloomberg School of Public Health, says that passing through rebates better aligns the incentives of a PBM and a plan sponsor.

"I think for the large, self-funded employers, the issue is more about product selection," Bai says. "And the employers are frustrated by some inefficient product selection choices made by the PBMs on the formulary….it's one reason why employers want the rebate pass-through — it will reduce the PBM's incentive to make money from high-price, high-rebate drugs."

However, Bai also says that explains why some employers opt for a traditional rebate model: for firms that don't expect to have high levels of drug spending by members, the lower premium offered by the traditional rebate model may be more appealing.

Like Bai, Daniel Nam, Pharm.D., associate principal for pharmacy policy at Avalere Health, says that prices and premiums will ultimately decide which approach becomes dominant in the marketplace.

"I think it really depends on the bottom-line price that the PBM is willing to offer to the employer or the health plan," he says.


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Topics: Industry Trends, Market Access, Payer