A recent Forbes article has outlined how, under Obamacare, Americans will have a hard time continuing to use the medicine they are currently prescribed.
This is due to the out-of-pocket expense that will occur because it seems many drugs are just not covered, and the costs patients incur by buying them with cash won’t count against out of pocket caps.
So you can’t keep your doctor, your hospital or even your medicine!
The President famously promised that you could keep your health plan and doctor. For many people, both of those pledges are turning out to be false. And now, you might not be able to keep your medicine, either.
There are two reasons why. The first has to do with the higher out of pocket costs patients will face. The second issue may be even more significant.
Simply put, many drugs may not be covered at all, and the costs patients incur by buying them with cash won’t count against out of pocket caps. This has repercussions for drug makers with big portfolios of specialty and primary care drugs (more on that later). But most of all, it has implications for patients.
Drugs on your health plan’s formulary will typically have fixed co-pays. These costs usually count toward your deductible and the out of pocket and lifetime limits on the total amount of money that your health plan can ask you to spend.
As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, these co-pays can already be substantial, pushing people quickly to their annual out-of-pocket limits — $6,350 for individuals and $12,700 for families (after which insurers pay the full tab).
People whose annual income is at or below 250% of the Federal Poverty Level will qualify for cost-sharing reductions. (That comes out to families of four earning less than about $60,000, or individuals earning less than $30,000). But people qualify for these cost-sharing subsidies only if they enroll in a higher cost, “silver” Obamacare plan.
Take, for example, the drug Copaxone for multiple sclerosis.
If you buy the highest cost platinum plan, the out of pocket costs drop to $792 a month. But you’re probably better off with the cheaper bronze plan anyway.
Since you’re going to hit your out of pocket cap regardless of your plan, you might as well save money on the premium (which doesn’t count against your deductible or out of pocket limits) and race to the $12,700 spending cap as quickly as your family can.
After all, the provider networks (and formularies) used by low cost “bronze” and high cost “platinum” plans are often the same. The only thing that varies between different “metal” plans is typically the co-pay structure. Why pay higher premiums just to lower your co-pays when you’re going to hit the out of pocket caps anyway.
By purchasing a costlier, gold or platinum plan, you typically can’t “buy up” to a higher benefit. What you’re really doing is just prepaying the cost sharing.
But at least — in this model case — the drug Copaxone was partially covered under the Obamacare plan’s formulary. Consider an even bigger problem lurking inside the law.
The out of pocket caps on consumer spending only apply to costs incurred on drugs that are included on a plan’s drug formulary. This is the list of medicines that the health plans have agreed to provide some coverage for.
If the drug isn’t on this formulary list, then the patient could be responsible for its full cost (with little or no co-insurance to help offset that cost). Moreover, the money they spend won’t count against their deductibles or out of pocket limits ($12,700 for a family, $6,350 for an individual).
These are the ways that Obamacare cheapens the health coverage in order to pay for all of its expensive mandates. Obamacare is a throwback to the old HMO model of the 1990s, which promised a broad package of coverage for primary care benefits like vaccines, and routine doctor visits. But to pay for these benefits, the Obamacare plans skimp on other things – principally the number of doctors you’ll have access to, and also, the number of costlier branded drugs that make it onto formularies.
Many Americans rejected these restrictive HMO model plans in the 1990s, in favor of PPO-style plans that had higher cost sharing for routine health services, but offered broader access to doctors and have bigger drug formularies. What Obamacare says, in effect, is that Americans made the wrong choice when they rejected those HMO plans in favor of PPOs. The President thinks the more comprehensive, but restrictive HMOs were the better choice after all.
In response to the drug formulary issues, and the potential for important drugs to remain completely uncovered, staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is arguing that patients will have the option to appeal formulary decisions — to try and compel a health plan to cover a given drug.
But this appeals process can take months. And there is no sure chance of winning.
If a drug costs tens of thousands of dollars a year, how many patients will be able to foot that bill out of pocket until they win an appeal. Or take the chance that they could lose the appeal, and be stuck with the full cost of the drug?
The biggest problem in all of this is that consumers will have a very hard time figuring out where they stand. In many cases, the health plans being offered in the Obamacare exchanges don’t make information about their drug formularies readily available. In some cases, it doesn’t seem to be published anywhere.