The race to decrease drug costs is heating up across America. The Trump Administration has one idea, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi has her solution and Big Pharma has prosed a resolution to the problem. But some insurers are now rising to the occasion and finding ways for members to afford expensive specialty drug treatments, such as gene therapy.
The cost of gene therapies is expected to reach more than $16 billion in the United States by 2024. While only two therapies have yet to be approved, they are indicative of the high price tag.
Luxturna (voretigene neparvovec-rzyl), the first FDA-approved prescription gene therapy for people with inherited retinal disease leading to blindness, costs $415,000 per eye. Zolgensma (onasemnogene abeparvovec-xioi) for children under two years old with spinal muscular atrophy is set at $2.1 million.
These potentially life-saving medications would undoubtedly break the bank and prevent coverage and access by patients.
Embarc eliminates copayments
Cigna has developed a coverage program, Embarc Benefit Protection, for the two therapies that don’t require any out-of-pocket payments related to the cost of the medicine. It is expected to go live by January 2020.
Payers pay a per-member per-month (PMPM) fee to access Embarc’s gene therapy network. Physicians are required to submit prior authorization requests for patient eligibility. Steve Miller, MD, chief medical clinical officer for Cigna, hopes that PMPM will reach $1.
Miller says that Cigna chose gene therapy because of the integral part it will play in overall healthcare. He also is concerned by the history of gene therapies, two of which were approved in Europe and have since been taken off the market because they are cost prohibitive.
“Without patient access, a product can become a tremendous market failure,” Miller says. “Some plans are writing policies to exclude gene therapy, while stop-loss insurers are capping their exposure. Although gene therapy is not yet urgent or presenting any threat, we want to capture the market before insurers decide to exclude these treatments from their benefits.”
He wants to eliminate all barriers to joining the Embarc coalition of subsidiaries and affiliates so that patients are not forced into government insurance. The program initially will target Cigna members followed by Express Scripts’ book of business, then EviCor and finally non-affiliated health plans.
Brian Duffant, vice president at BluePath Solutions, a market access and health economics/outcomes research consulting firm based in Los Angeles, says payers are developing new payment programs to address the projected future increase in demand for gene therapies based on the burgeoning gene therapy pipeline.
The addressable market for gene therapies could grow as large as 2.4 billion patients worldwide, according to Guggenheim Securities.
Miller says Embarc will combine Cigna’s innovative payment with the health services, medical benefit management, and specialty pharmacy expertise of Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefits manager; eviCore, a healthcare management company; Accredo specialty pharmacy; and Curascript SD, a specialty pharmaceutical dispensing and distribution company.
AveXis, a subsidiary of Novartis Corp. that developed Zolgensma, also is partnering with Cigna’s coalition members offering payers pay-over-time options up to five years and outcomes-based agreements up to five years for the drug. In the same vein, the Cigna partnership will envelop Spark Therapeutics, the producer of Luxturna.