Radiopharmaceutical Purchase Prices for CMS Consideration in Hospital Outpatient Rate-Setting

GAO-05-733R: Published: Jul 14, 2005. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 2005.

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Alan Bruce Steinwald
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Medicare pays hospitals for drugs and other pharmaceutical products that beneficiaries receive as part of their treatment in hospital outpatient departments. Specifically, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) uses an outpatient prospective payment system (OPPS) to pay hospitals fixed, predetermined rates for services. These services include pharmaceutical products--drugs, biologicals, and radiopharmaceuticals--given to beneficiaries in outpatient settings. When OPPS was first developed as directed by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, the rates for hospital outpatient services and drugs and radiopharmaceuticals were based on hospitals' 1996 median costs. However, these rates prompted concerns that payments to hospitals would not reflect the cost of newly introduced pharmaceutical products used to treat, for example, cancer, rare blood disorders, and other serious conditions. In turn, congressional concerns were raised that beneficiaries might lose access to some of these products if hospitals avoided providing them because of a perceived shortfall in payments. In response to these concerns, the Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Balanced Budget Refinement Act of 1999 authorized pass-through payments, which are a way to augment, on a temporary basis, the OPPS payments for newly introduced pharmaceutical products first used after 1996. The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) modified this payment method for some of these pharmaceutical products. As part of the modification, the MMA defined a new payment category--specified covered outpatient drugs (SCOD)--which includes many of these newly introduced pharmaceutical products. The MMA defined a SCOD as a drug or radiopharmaceutical used in hospital outpatient departments, covered by Medicare, and for which CMS has established a separate ambulatory payment classification (APC) group. The MMA established a methodology for CMS to follow in setting payment rates for SCODs in 2004 and 2005. CMS defines SCODs by their Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) codes, which CMS assigns to products, supplies, and services for billing purposes. The MMA also directed us to collect data on hospitals' acquisition costs of SCODs and to provide information based on these data to the Secretary of Health and Human Services for his consideration in setting 2006 Medicare payment rates. The MMA directed us to collect these data by surveying a large sample of hospitals.

In summary, we obtained from our survey data the average and median purchase prices for each of nine radiopharmaceutical SCOD categories. Purchase price refers to the price that hospitals pay upon receiving the product and is the key component of hospital acquisition costs. These nine categories represent 9 percent of all Medicare spending on SCODs in the first 9 months of 2004. The purchase price information takes account of discounts taken at the time hospitals received the product but excludes any rebates paid subsequent to the receipt of the product.

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