NPR, September 13, 2018
Susan Jaffe

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Starting next year, Medicare Advantage plans will be able to add restrictions on expensive, injectable drugs administered by doctors to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, macular degeneration and other serious diseases.

Under the new rules from Medicare, these private Medicare insurance plans could require patients to try cheaper drugs first. If those are not effective, then the patients could receive the more expensive medication prescribed by their doctors.

Insurers use such "step therapy" to control drug costs in the employer-based insurance market as well as in Medicare's stand-alone Part D prescription drug benefit, which generally covers medicine purchased at retail pharmacies or through the mail.

The new option allows Advantage the private Medicare plans — an alternative to traditional, government-run Medicare — to extend that cost-control strategy to these physician-administered drugs.

In traditional Medicare, which covers 40 million older or disabled adults, those medications given by doctors arecovered under Medicare Part B, which includes outpatient services, and step therapy is not allowed.

About 20 million people have private Medicare Advantage policies, which include coverage for Part D and Part B medications.

Some physicians and patient advocates are concerned that the pursuit of lower Part B drug prices could endanger very sick Medicare Advantage patients if they can't be treated promptly with the medicine that was their doctor's first choice. [...]

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