Yesterday the Partnership to Improve Patient Care along with nearly 100 other patient organizations sent a letter to CVS demanding that it abandon the plan to deny patients access to drugs that a private organization has deemed not worth it.
CVS is using the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review’s estimate of the value of life ($100K) to determine whether to cover all existing drugs. Those that are priced above the $100K threshold will not be covered by CVS because, according to ICER, at that price the drugs are not cost effective.
The letter notes: ”This type of cost-effectiveness analysis discriminates against people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups like the elderly because it assigns higher value to people in “perfect health” than people in less-than-perfect health. As the letter states, "policy decisions based on cost-effectiveness ignore important differences among patients and instead rely on a single, one-size-fits-all assessment. Further, cost-effectiveness analysis discriminates against the chronically ill, the elderly and people with disabilities, using algorithms that calculate their lives as 'worth less' than people who are younger or non-disabled."
Moreover, the ICER threshold is used to cap total spending on new drugs at a fixed amount ($940 million) each year If a new drug can cure a disease that’s too bad. You can’t spend more than that $940 million. That’s another form of rationing.
According to a BiopharmaDive article, in response a “CVS Health spokesperson described the QALY-based decision plan as non-discriminatory and said it would help patients get treatments "at a price they and the health care system can afford."
"We like ICER because it's very transparent," CVS Health Chief Medical Officer Troyen Brennan said in a recent interview with STAT News.
"They undertake this activity voluntarily, they're supported largely by philanthropy, and when combined with market pressure, their analysis is every bit as powerful as government regulation might be," Brennan added.
In fact, CVS will use get companies to cut their prices to ICER thereby increasing rebates. CVS will pocket, not pass, those additional rebates based on the ICER price to patients in order to increase access or reduce out of pocket costs. CVS will use ICER guided rationing and cost sharing to ratchet up policies that discriminate against the sickest patients.
And Brennan must have forgotten that CVS funds ICER along with Laura and John Arnold Foundation which by the way has invested $9.7 million in the CVS Pass Through Trusts (“created to finance the purchase of, or refinance existing financing, on drugstores. The Trust's drugstores will be leased, subleased, or sub-subleased.”)
There are not many organizations who did not sign the letter. One notable exception is Patients for Affordable Drugs which is also funded by the Arnold Foundation and has come out in favor of the proposal to use step therapy and cost-sharing tiers to limit access to medicines under Medicare part B. Perhaps the group and its founder, advertising tycoon David Mitchell, were too busy funneling Arnold dough to run attack ads against Bob Hugin in the NJ senate race.
Curiously, the journalists, editorial writers, and news outlets that cover drug cost issues have written nothing. I could only find the BiopharmaDive article I quoted as well as a great article in Biocentury that provides insight into the impact of applying ICER to formulary access: "ICER has found only one of 14 MS drugs and zero of nine rheumatoid arthritis treatments to be cost-effective. Although the two treatments for tardive dyskinesia, a side effect of antipsychotic treatment, that ICER has reviewed were each deemed not cost-effective, both compounds have breakthrough therapy designation from FDA and would not be eligible for exclusion from the formulary."
As of this writing STAT and Kaiser Health News have not reported on this controversy. Ditto, Jayne O’ Donnell at USA Today, Max Nisen at Bloomberg, Carolyn Johnson at the Washington Post, Matt Herper at Forbes or Peter Loftus at WSJ.
I guess the fact that CVS which will soon acquire Aetna and could use the extra cash squeezed out of the sickest patients to boost net revenues and the stock price of the new company is of no interest to these reporters. Neither is the fact that CVS is outsourcing life and death decisions to an unelected and unaccountable private organization which it also funds.
If health journalism has a pulse, I can’t find it.
Finally, you would think that the CVS assault on patients would get the attention of HHS Secretary Azar. Not even a tweet. So much for the administration’s concern about patient access. Something tells me that the blueprint to reduce drug costs is now being written to facilitate the very shenanigans HHS once condemned.