CMS rule aims to block use of drugmaker coupons on ACA plan members' out-of-pocket costs

Affordable Care Act
CMS issued a slew of updates to the exchanges for 2020 on Thursday. (Getty/zimmytws)

CMS is taking aim at increasing the use of generic drugs in ACA plans in a new rule filed Thursday evening.

In the rule (PDF), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services included a provision to allow insurers in the 2020 plan year to implement copay accumulator programs that would block the use of manufacturer coupons to lower annual out-of-pocket costs on certain brand name drugs when there’s a generic available.

Virginia and West Virginia have banned these programs in their individual markets, and several additional states are considering similar moves.

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CMS, however, argues that the practce would decrease drug spending and encourage people to use generics.

“At CMS, we have improved the operations of the exchange to deliver a better consumer experience at a lower cost,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in an announcement

RELATED: Payers, providers to CMS—Don't end silver loading  

Here's a look at the collection of notes and changes CMS included in the new rule: 

  • CMS reiterated its support for a legislative fix to end ACA plan “silver-loading,” including the potential for cost-sharing reduction payments to be reinstated. It noted that all the comments it received in response to a request for more information in the proposed rule supported allowing silver loading to continue. 

Insurers offering plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges responded to the Trump administration’s 2017 decision to end CSRs by stacking most premium increases on silver plans, which are used to determine federal subsidies. This offered an alternative way to lower cost-sharing. 

“The administration supports a legislative solution that would appropriate CSR payments and end silver loading,” CMS said in the rule. “In the absence of congressional action, we sought comment on ways in which HHS might address silver loading.” 

It did not take any action to change the practice. The earliest it might act would be for the 2021 plan year, CMS said.

  • CMS is also considering changes for automatic re-enrollment in 2021, according to the rule. The agency requested feedback on changes in this area as well in the proposed rule. CMS expressed concern that the current form of re-enrollment may prevent plan members from updating their information in a timely manner, which could lead to wasteful spending on tax credits. 

RELATED: Final Healthcare.gov enrollment numbers show drop due to cancellations 

All commenters that weighed-in on the issue called for CMS to leave the current re-enrollment policy in place, as it eases administrative burden and can prevent lapses in coverage. 

CMS said it will consider those responses as “we continue to explore options to improve exchange program integrity.” 

  • The rule also finalizes several policy adjustments for the 2020 plan year in the individual, small group and large group markets. The agency reduced user fees borne by insurers that funds operation of state exchanges and Healthcare.gov from 3% to 2.5%.

This decrease will go toward further decreasing premiums, CMS said. 
 

  • CMS also aimed to improve transparency in its enhanced direct enrollment program, which allows people to sign up for ACA plans directly through an approved payer or broker without the need to visit Healthcare.gov. Web brokers will be required to provide the agency will a list of brokers and agents that use their platforms. 

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