Here are 4 key health policy items in the Inflation Reduction Act

The House passed on late Friday a sweeping healthcare, climate and taxes package that includes major reforms on drug prices and extends boosted Affordable Care Act subsidies through 2025.

But the sweeping Inflation Reduction Act, which now heads to President Joe Biden for his signature, could reshape many other aspects of the healthcare industry. It would give Medicare the power for the first time to negotiate a small subset of Part D and Part B drugs.

Here are four other health policy changes to look for in the bill:

  • Expands eligibility for low-income Part D subsidies. The bill expands who can qualify under the Low-Income Subsidy Program that helps meet Part D cost-sharing burdens like deductibles. Currently, a beneficiary qualifies for the program if they earn up to 135% of the federal poverty level and get partial benefits for 135% to 150% of the level. The law would expand full benefits to those who earn between 135% and 150%, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
  • Gets rid of the cost sharing for adult vaccines for Medicare Part D. It also requires states to cover all vaccines for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program beneficiaries. The benefit though only applies to any vaccines that get cleared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
  • Delays the controversial Part D rebate rule, again. The Trump-era rule would get rid of the safe harbor for Part D rebates, leaving them open to prosecution under federal anti-kickback laws. The rule passed at the tail end of Trump’s term but has never gone into effect. The law would delay the rule from going into effect again into 2032.
  • Limits the premium growth on Medicare Part D to no more than six percent a year from 2024 through 2029. The cap on premium growth is intended to mitigate the impact of other changes to Part D, said Ryan Urgo, managing director of the policy practice at consulting firm Avalere Health. The legislation includes a $2,000 out-of-pocket cost cap on Part D drugs, spread out in installments for the beneficiary over a calendar year. Part D plans will also have to pick up more of the costs for spending in the catastrophic coverage phase, which a beneficiary reaches when their drug costs reach a certain level.

Experts say regulating the bill will have a big impact on providers, including those that rely heavily on reimbursements for Medicare Part B drugs. 

Some providers purchase their own products under a buy and bill model and then get reimbursed by Medicare for the average sales price of the Part B drug plus 4% for storage and handling costs. The problem is that model doesn’t work if Medicare will reimburse for a smaller negotiated rate, experts say.

“If you are buying high and getting paid low you are, in essence, underwater,” Urgo told Fierce Healthcare. “If you are buying a drug at $1,000 and the reimbursement under Medicare with [the negotiated price] is only $800 you are $200 in the red. To address that there is going to be a need for providers to purchase products at the [negotiated rate] as opposed to market prices.”

The Community Oncology Alliance has raised concerns about this potential change. 

“History has clearly documented that bluntly cutting Medicare payments like proposed in the reconciliation bill, will lead to cancer practice closures and consolidations,” said COA Executive Director Ted Okon in a statement back in July when the drug price reform text was introduced. 

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, proposed an amendment to the bill that would have required drugmakers to rebate the government any excess costs above the negotiated prices. The amendment was not agreed to before the final passage earlier this month.