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HHS Proposes to Revise Discount Safe Harbor Protection for Drug Rebates

On January 31, 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a notice of proposed rulemaking (the Proposed Rule) as part of ongoing administration drug pricing reform efforts. The Proposed Rule would modify a regulatory provision that had previously protected certain pharmaceutical manufacturer rebates from criminal prosecution and financial penalties under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.

Specifically, the Proposed Rule would exclude from “safe harbor” protection rebates and other discounts on prescription pharmaceutical products offered by pharmaceutical manufacturers to Medicare Part D plan sponsors or Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (MCOs), unless the price reduction is required by law (such as rebates required under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program). The proposed exclusion would apply to rebates offered directly to Part D plan sponsors and Medicaid MCOs, as well as those negotiated by or paid through a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM). HHS stated that it does not intend for the revisions in this Proposed Rule to negatively impact protection of prescription pharmaceutical product discounts offered to other entities such as wholesalers, hospitals, physicians, pharmacies and third-party payors in other federal health care programs. The proposed effective date of this regulatory modification is January 1, 2020, although HHS has sought comments regarding whether this allows sufficient time for parties to restructure existing arrangements.

In addition, the Proposed Rule would add two new regulatory safe harbors for:

  • Certain price reductions that are fully passed through to the dispensing pharmacy and applied to the price charged to the member at the point-of-sale; and

  • Fixed fee payments from manufacturers to PBMs for the services that PBMs provide those manufacturers. In order to be protected, the fees would have to be for services that relate to the PBM’s arrangements with health plans (e.g., services that rely on data collected from health plan customers).

These new safe harbors would become effective 60 days after HHS publishes a final rule.

The potential implications of the Proposed Rule extend beyond the context of federal Anti-Kickback Statute compliance to drug reimbursement in the United States more broadly. The proposals will likely be subject to significant public debate and legal scrutiny.

The Proposed Rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on February 6, 2019, and public comments on the proposals would be due 60 days later. The Proposed Rule can be found here and the HHS Factsheet is available here

© 2019 McDermott Will & Emery

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About this Author

James A. Cannatti III* practices at the intersection of today's most pertinent health care issues, including digital health, health IT policy, and fraud and abuse, including Anti-Kickback Statute/Stark Law matters. With more than 10 years of experience in the US Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), most recently as Senior Counselor for Health Information Technology, James is well-attuned to the regulatory issues impacting the rapidly evolving digital health landscape, including:

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Kate McDonald, McDermott Will Emery law Firm, Health Care attorney
Associate

Kate McDonald is an associate in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and is based in the Firm’s Washington, D.C., office.  She is a member of the Health Industry Advisory Practice Group. 

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