March 10, 2016
Majority of Drugs Now Subject to Coinsurance in Medicare Part D Plans
By Caroline F. Pearson
A new analysis from Avalere finds that a majority of prescription drugs covered by standalone Medicare Part D plans (PDPs) are subject to coinsurance, rather than copayments, in 2016. Coinsurance is when a beneficiary pays a percentage of the cost of the drug, rather than a fixed dollar amount, or copayment. Coinsurance often leads to patients paying more out of pocket compared to fixed dollar amount copayments. The average percentage of covered drugs facing coinsurance has risen sharply from 35 percent in 2014 to 58 percent in 2016 among PDPs. While most PDPs have historically applied coinsurance to high-cost drugs on the specialty tier, plans have extended coinsurance to drugs on lower tiers in recent years, including those covered on preferred and non-preferred brand tiers.
"These very high rates of coinsurance have shifted our understanding of Part D formulary coverage," said Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at Avalere. "It will be important to monitor what drugs are being placed on various coinsurance tiers and how plans are using these tiers to manage cost and utilization in the program."
Comment by Don McCanne
Medicare Part D drug plans are shifting more drugs from a copayment requirement - a fixed dollar amount to be paid for each prescription - to coinsurance - a percentage of the charge for each prescription. This is important because coinsurance payments tend to be higher than coinsurance - sometimes much higher - especially with the recent increases in drug prices.
Obviously this is simply one more method of shifting the costs of health care to the patient. Many are already finding out-of-pocket costs to be unaffordable, yet it keeps getting worse. This is a one way street. The insurers are not looking for ways to reduce out-of-pocket expenses since they would have to pick up the additional costs which would then make their premiums less affordable, and the last thing that they would want to do is risk losing market share through higher premiums.
Coinsurance is a method of reducing health spending by erecting financial barriers to the care that patients should have. Instead, we should be removing financial barriers to care. That is what an improved Medicare for all with first dollar coverage would do.