Last week, in response to the Omicron variant, President Biden announced the Government intends to purchase 500 million at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests for distribution to Americans. According to the announcement, Americans will be able to order test kits to be delivered to their homes starting in January. While this may have been a good sound bite, as discussed below, it does not appear realistic. More likely, while Americans may be able to place orders in January, those orders may not be filled until several months into 2022.
As widely reported, rapid COVID-19 at-home test kits are already in short supply. Moreover, the Government has yet to enter into additional contracts beyond the limited contracts to a small number of suppliers previously announced by the Defense Logistics Agency (“DLA”) and a handful of “prototype” contracts finalized in 2020 under the Trump administration. The Government has not made any recent additional contract awards for rapid COVID-19 at-home test kits.
On December 22, one day after the president’s announcement, the Department of Defense (“DoD”), on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), issued a Request for Information (“RFI”) seeking information to assess market availability and sourcing for rapid COVID-19 at-home tests. The RFI, however, is not an actual procurement nor contract award and merely seeks information for 500,000 test kits for agency “personnel use.” Responses were due by 3:00 p.m. on December 24. (See, Rapid COVID-19 Antigen Test Kits.) Proposals to supply test kits are unlikely until after a Request for Proposal (“RFP”) has been issued. As of today, no RFP has been issued.
President-elect Biden plans to nominate California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”). The current Administration has frustrated the pharmaceutical industry with numerous Executive Orders and proposed rules and regulations trying to impact drug pricing. DHHS’s interim final rule implementing a Most Favored Nations Model (i.e., an international pricing index) for reimbursement of certain Medicare Part B drugs is the most recent example.
Numerous pundits suggested that pharmaceutical companies manufacturing vaccines and other drugs to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic waited until after the November election to announce their progress. The rationale was that the companies would prefer working with a Biden Administration rather than suffer through four more years of acrimony with the Trump Administration. The Becerra announcement, however, could indicate the pharmaceutical industry is not yet out of the woods. Continue reading “What Could a DHHS Secretary Becerra Mean for the Pharmaceutical Industry?”
On Sunday, while everyone was watching the return of NFL football, the Administration was busy fulfilling a promise it made in July to lower drug prices paid by the United States and Medicare beneficiaries by tying pricing to certain foreign countries.
In July, the Administration issued three Executive Orders concerning drug pricing and access to critical therapies. At that time, the Administration also announced that, unless the pharmaceutical industry proposed a plan that would decrease prices paid by Medicare Part B by August 24, the Administration would move forward with its own plan. Apparently, no agreement with the industry was reached because on Sunday the Administration announced its own plan.
In what is being called the “Most Favored Nations” Executive Order, the Administration is re-starting its efforts to reduce the prices the United States pays for drugs under Medicare Parts B and D. The Order uses the “most-favored-nation price” as the benchmark for prices to be paid by the United States. Most-favored-nation price is defined as the lowest price, after adjusting for volume and differences in national gross domestic product, for a pharmaceutical product that the drug manufacturer sells in a comparable member country of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (“OECD”).
Perhaps most surprising is the increased scope of the Order. The Order goes beyond what was proposed in July by seeking to link not only Medicare Part B drug prices but also Medicare Part D prices to lower prices paid by other countries. With respect to both Medicare Parts, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (“HHS”) “payment model” is to test whether poor clinical outcomes improve as a result of patients paying lower prices—no more than the most-favored-nation prices—for certain high-cost pharmaceuticals and biologics.
While the Order makes for a snappy sound bite, any potential benefits of lower drug prices will not be seen anytime soon. First, HHS will need to complete its rulemaking, which could have its own challenges. For example, in November 2018, HHS published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPR”) proposing to implement an international reference pricing payment model for use by Medicare and Medicaid. Ultimately, nothing became of the ANPR. Even then, implementation of the contemplated programs is precarious. Industry opposition to the Order has been palpable and any HHS plan will likely face legal challenges that could substantially delay implementation.
On July 31, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) and the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) announced their latest plan to reduce the prices Americans pay for prescription drugs. The Safe Importation Action Plan identifies two pathways for the importation of drugs.
Pathway 1 allows states, wholesalers, and pharmacists to submit plans to HHS for demonstration projects, which test and measure the effect of potential program changes, that allow for the importation of certain drugs from Canada. Importing drugs from Canada is not a new concept. In 2003, Congress gave the Secretary of HHS the authority to permit drug importation from Canada. To implement a drug importation plan, however, the Secretary was required to certify to Congress that the importation program poses “no additional risk to public health and safety” and the program will result in a “significant” reduction in costs of products to American consumers. No HHS Secretary has ever made such a certification to Congress. Implementation of importation plans under Pathway 1 will most likely take considerable time. HHS intends to implement Pathway 1 through a formal Rulemaking process with Notice and Comment. Then, importation plans will need HHS approval before going “live.” Continue reading “Will HHS’s Safe Importation Action Plan Affect How the Federal Government Purchases Drugs?”