Monday, August 23, 2010

Synagis' Special Status Under Health Care Reform

It is every marketer's dream to have a product that is in a class by itself.

AstraZeneca/MedImmune's respiratory syncytial therapy Synagis (pavilizumab) can claim that distinction in an entirely new way as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services implements new rebate provisions for the Medicaid prescription drug program under the Affordable Care Act: Synagis is the only drug that will benefit from a new, lower mandatory rebate on drugs that are "approved by the Food & Drug Administration exclusively for pediatric indications."

Recall that the health care reform law raised the minimum Medicaid rebate percentage from 15.1% to 23.1% for most brand name drugs. But the law sets a lower rebate amount (17.1%) for two classes of drugs : clotting factors and pediatric-only drugs. (For a complete analysis of the Medicaid rebate changes, see here.)

If that isn't complicated enough, the new rebate amounts were effective retroactively to Jan. 1 (the law was signed at the end of March), but CMS didn't provide any guidance on which products were covered until now.

For clotting factors, the list of covered products was pretty simple, since the new rebate provision specifically cites products that already receive a separate furnishing payment from Medicaid. So that list of affected drugs is no surprise. (Manufacturers who benefit include Bayer, Aventis Behring, CSL Behring, Novo Nordisk, Baxter, Talecris, Grifols and Pfizer/Wyeth).

But it was by no means clear what products were covered by the "pediatric-only" exemption. Now we know: Synagis. (The official "list" is here.)

It turns out that Synagis is the only product approved by FDA all of whose indications are explicitly limited to pediatric use (from birth to age 16). That, at least, is what CMS determined. (The agency does invite anyone who is "aware of other drugs that meet the pediatric definition specified" by CMS to email .)

We note with amusement that CMS' explanation of how it came up with the "list" runs a full page. For that matter, the section of the law that CMS is interpreting [Sec. 1927(c)(1)(B)(iii)(II)(bb) for all you Medicaid rebate wonks] is longer than the list of covered drugs. Wouldn't it have been easier just to say "the minimum rebate on Synagis is 17.1%?"

Okay, that's not how legislation works. And we suspect AstraZeneca is just as happy that the provision flew beneath the radar screen a bit; there is enough controversy about the pharmaceutical industry's "deal" on health care reform--a deal, we might add, negotiated by the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America when it was chaired by David Brennan, CEO of AstraZeneca.

But a bit of perspective here. We assume AZ is pleased that the minimum rebate on Synagis is lower than for most brands, but it is not like AZ will reap some kind of windfall as a result.

First, the new minimum rebate is still two percentage points higher than the old 15.1% minimum rebate. According to MedImmune's 2006 10K filing (the last filed by the firm before it was acquired by AZ), every percentage point increase in Medicaid rebate liability translates into roughly an $11 million hit to sales for the brand.

Then there is the separate provision of the health care reform law extending Medicaid rebates to managed care plans. While that affects a relatively small segment of the overall Medicaid prescription drug market, the impact per unit sold is large (in this case, no rebate to 17.1% minimum).

Last but not least, there is a provision in the new rebate rules that attempts to recoup rebates on new formulations of products. The idea is that, if a sponsor changes a formulation and sets a new price point, it should still pay the same amount in rebates (or more) as it did under the old formulation.

We think that provision affects Synagis as well, since (as MedImmune disclosed in the 2006 10K filing), "during the fourth quarter of 2005, we successfully transitioned to the liquid formulation of Synagis in the US from the lyophilized formulation, which has resulted in a reduction in allowances for government rebates and an increase in net realized price during 2006."

That provision, however, is even less clearly defined in statute than the pediatric-only rebate--and CMS hasn't issued guidance on interpreting it yet. (We've written about the line-extension rebate in The RPM Report, here.)

So, net-net, AZ is paying much higher rebates on Synagis than it would have without health care reform. But, thanks to its special treatment under the law, they aren't quite as high as they might have been.

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