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Publication of OIG Special Advisory Bulletin on Patient Assistance Programs for Medicare Part D Enrollees

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Office of Inspector General (OIG), HHS.




OIG periodically develops and issues guidance, including Special Advisory Bulletins, to alert and inform the health care industry about potential problems or areas of special interest. This Federal Register notice sets forth the recently issued OIG Special Advisory Bulletin addressing patient assistance programs for Medicare Part D enrollees.

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Darlene M. Hampton, Office of Counsel to the Inspector General, (202) 619-0335.

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Special Advisory Bulletin: Patient Assistance Programs for Medicare Part D Enrollees (November 2005)

I. Introduction

Patient assistance programs (PAPs) have long provided important safety net assistance to patients of limited means Start Printed Page 70624who do not have insurance coverage for drugs, typically serving patients with chronic illnesses and high drug costs. PAPs are structured and operated in many different ways. PAPs may offer cash subsidies, free or reduced price drugs, or both. Some PAPs offer assistance directly to patients, while others replenish drugs furnished by pharmacies, clinics, hospitals, and other entities to eligible patients whose drugs are not covered by an insurance program. Some PAPs are affiliated with particular pharmaceutical manufacturers; others are operated by independent charitable organizations (such as, for example, patient advocacy and support organizations) without regard to any specific donor or industry interests.

Many pharmaceutical manufacturers have historically sponsored PAPs that assist patients whose outpatient prescription drugs are not covered by an insurance program (including some Medicare beneficiaries), in obtaining the manufacturer's products for free or at greatly reduced cost. Beginning on January 1, 2006, Medicare Part D will offer Medicare beneficiaries who elect to enroll broad coverage for outpatient prescription drugs. Accordingly, Medicare beneficiaries who enroll in Part D will no longer qualify under traditional PAP eligibility criteria. Part D enrollees will incur cost-sharing obligations (including deductibles and copayments), although many low-income beneficiaries will qualify for subsidies that will reduce or eliminate their financial obligations.[1] Pharmaceutical manufacturers have expressed interest in continuing to assist Medicare Part D enrollees of limited means who do not qualify for the low-income subsidy.

OIG is mindful of the importance of ensuring that financially needy beneficiaries who enroll in Part D receive medically necessary drugs, and OIG supports efforts of charitable organizations and others to assist financially needy beneficiaries, as long as the assistance is provided in a manner that does not run afoul of the Federal anti-kickback statute or other laws.[2] We have been asked whether the anti-kickback statute will be implicated if pharmaceutical manufacturer PAPs [3] continue to offer assistance to financially needy Medicare beneficiaries who enroll in Part D by subsidizing their cost-sharing obligations for covered Part D drugs. For the reasons set forth below and consistent with extant OIG guidance, we conclude that pharmaceutical manufacturer PAPs that subsidize Part D cost-sharing amounts present heightened risks under the anti-kickback statute. However, in the circumstances described in this Bulletin, cost-sharing subsidies provided by bona fide, independent charities unaffiliated with pharmaceutical manufacturers should not raise anti-kickback concerns, even if the charities receive manufacturer contributions. In addition, we believe other arrangements described in this Bulletin, if properly structured, may pose reduced risk. Thus, we believe lawful avenues exist for pharmaceutical manufacturers and others to help ensure that all Part D beneficiaries can afford medically necessary drugs.

Given the importance of ensuring continued access to drugs for beneficiaries of limited means and the expedited time frame for implementation of the Part D benefit, we are issuing this Special Advisory Bulletin to identify potentially abusive PAP structures, as well as methods of providing assistance that mitigate or vitiate the potential for fraud and abuse. This Special Advisory Bulletin draws on the government's prior fraud and abuse guidance and enforcement experience. However, because the Part D benefit has not yet begun, and any assessment of fraud and abuse is necessarily speculative, this Bulletin cannot, and is not intended to, be an exhaustive discussion of relevant risks or beneficial practices.

At the outset, it is important to note the following:

  • PAPs need not disenroll all Medicare beneficiaries from their existing PAPs to be compliant with the fraud and abuse laws. Enrollment in Part D is voluntary; therefore, existing PAPs may continue to provide free or reduced price outpatient prescription drugs to Medicare beneficiaries who have not yet enrolled in Part D. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) anticipates instituting procedures that will help PAPs determine if PAP clients have enrolled in Part D.
  • Occasional, inadvertent cost-sharing subsidies provided by a pharmaceutical manufacturer PAP to a Part D enrollee should not be problematic under the anti-kickback statute (e.g., where, despite due diligence, a pharmaceutical manufacturer PAP does not know and should not have known that a beneficiary has enrolled in Medicare Part D).
  • Nothing in the Part D program or in any OIG laws or regulations prevents pharmaceutical manufacturers or others from providing assistance (e.g., through cash subsidies or free drugs) to uninsured patients. Nothing in this Bulletin impacts programs that assist uninsured patients.
  • Nothing in this guidance should be construed as preventing pharmacies from waiving cost-sharing amounts owed by a Medicare beneficiary on the basis of a good faith, individualized assessment of the patient's financial need (or failure of reasonable collection efforts), so long as the waiver is neither routine, nor advertised. Financial need-based waivers that meet these criteria have long been permitted.[4] However, a pharmacy has not waived a cost-sharing amount if the amount has been paid to the pharmacy, in cash or in kind, by a Start Printed Page 70625third party (including, without limitation, a PAP).

II. The Federal Anti-Kickback Statute

The Federal anti-kickback statute, section 1128B(b) of the Social Security Act (the Act),[5] makes it a criminal offense knowingly and willfully to offer, pay, solicit, or receive any remuneration to induce or reward the referral or generation of business reimbursable by any Federal health care program, including Medicare and Medicaid. Where remuneration is paid purposefully to induce or reward referrals of items or services payable by a Federal health care program, the anti-kickback statute is violated. By its terms, the statute ascribes criminal liability to parties on both sides of an impermissible “kickback” transaction. For purposes of the anti-kickback statute, “remuneration” includes the transfer of anything of value, directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, in cash or in kind. The statute has been interpreted to cover any arrangement where one purpose of the remuneration was to obtain money for the referral of services or to induce further referrals. Violation of the statute constitutes a felony punishable by a maximum fine of $25,000, imprisonment up to five years, or both. OIG may also initiate administrative proceedings to exclude a person from Federal health care programs or to impose civil money penalties for kickback violations under sections 1128(b)(7) and 1128A(a)(7) of the Act.[6]

A determination regarding whether a particular arrangement violates the anti-kickback statute requires a case-by-case evaluation of all of the relevant facts and circumstances, including the intent of the parties. For PAPs, the nature, structure, sponsorship, and funding of the particular PAP are necessarily relevant to the analysis.

III. Patient Assistance Programs

As described more fully below, cost-sharing subsidies provided by pharmaceutical manufacturer PAPs pose a heightened risk of fraud and abuse under the Federal anti-kickback statute. However, there are non-abusive alternatives available. In particular, as discussed below, pharmaceutical manufacturers can donate to bona fide independent charity PAPs, provided appropriate safeguards exist. Moreover, this Bulletin discusses several other alternatives that may pose a reduced risk of fraud and abuse.

This section addresses in turn: pharmaceutical manufacturer PAPs, independent charity PAPs, manufacturer PAPs that operate “outside of Part D”; “coalition model” PAPs, and bulk replacement programs.

A. Pharmaceutical Manufacturer PAPs

Analytically, pharmaceutical manufacturer PAPs raise two main issues in connection with the Part D program: (i) Whether subsidies they provide can count toward a Part D enrollee's true out-of-pocket costs (known as the TrOOP); and (ii) whether the subsidies implicate the Federal anti-kickback statute.[7]

As to the first issue, the Part D regulations make clear that beneficiaries may count toward their TrOOP assistance received from any source other than group health plans, other insurers and government funded health programs, and similar third party payment arrangements.[8] The preamble to the Part D regulations explains that cost-sharing assistance furnished by a PAP, including a manufacturer PAP, will count toward a beneficiary's TrOOP expenditures, even if the PAP does not comply with the fraud and abuse laws.[9] This approach relieves beneficiaries of the financial risk of accepting assistance from an entity that may be improperly structured or operated.

As to the second issue, the core question is whether the anti-kickback statute would be implicated if a manufacturer of a drug covered under Part D were to subsidize cost-sharing amounts (directly or indirectly through a PAP) incurred by Part D beneficiaries for the manufacturer's product. Consistent with our prior guidance addressing manufacturer cost-sharing subsidies in the context of Part B drugs,[10] we believe such subsidies for Part D drugs would implicate the anti-kickback statute and pose a substantial risk of program and patient fraud and abuse.[11] Simply put, the subsidies would be squarely prohibited by the statute, because the manufacturer would be giving something of value (i.e., the subsidy) to beneficiaries to use its product. Where a manufacturer PAP offers subsidies tied to the use of the manufacturer's products (often expensive drugs used by patients with chronic illnesses), the subsidies present all of the usual risks of fraud and abuse associated with kickbacks, including steering beneficiaries to particular drugs; increasing costs to Medicare; providing a financial advantage over competing drugs; and reducing beneficiaries= incentives to locate and use less expensive, equally effective drugs.

It is impossible to predict with certainty the way in which abuse may occur in a new benefit program that is not yet operational. The following are illustrative examples of some types of abuse that may occur:

  • Increased costs to the program. We are concerned that a manufacturer might use beneficiary cost-sharing subsidies, which help beneficiaries meet their TrOOP requirement, to increase the number of beneficiaries using the manufacturer's product who reach the Start Printed Page 70626catastrophic benefit in any given coverage year and to hasten the point during the coverage year at which beneficiaries reach the catastrophic benefit. This is of particular import because Medicare will make cost-based payments during the catastrophic coverage benefit.[12] We know from experience that cost-based reimbursement is inherently prone to abuse, including by vendors that sell products reimbursed on a cost basis. Similarly, we are concerned about the use of cost-sharing subsidies to shield beneficiaries from the economic effects of drug pricing, thus eliminating a market safeguard against inflated prices. Inflated prices could have a “spillover” effect on the size of direct subsidies, reinsurance payments, and risk corridor payments paid by Medicare to Part D plans in future years,[13] potentially resulting in higher costs to the Medicare program.
  • Beneficiary steering and anti-competitive effects. Subsidies provided by traditional pharmaceutical manufacturer PAPs have the practical effect of locking beneficiaries into the manufacturer's product, even if there are other equally effective, less costly alternatives (and even if the patient's physician would otherwise prescribe one of these alternatives). Subsidizing Medicare Part D cost-sharing amounts will have this same steering effect. Moreover, as we have previously noted in the Part B context, cost-sharing subsidies can be very profitable for manufacturers, providing additional incentives for abuse. So long as the manufacturer's sales price for the product exceeds its marginal variable costs plus the amount of the cost-sharing assistance, the manufacturer makes a profit. These profits can be considerable, especially for expensive drugs for chronic conditions. We are concerned that pharmaceutical manufacturers may seek improperly to maximize these profits by creating sham “independent” charities to operate PAPs; by colluding with independent charity programs to ensure that the manufacturer's contributions only or primarily benefit patients using its products (discussed in more detail below); or by manipulating financial need or other eligibility criteria to maximize the number of beneficiaries qualifying for cost-sharing subsidies.

These risks are necessarily illustrative, not exhaustive, of the potential risks presented by pharmaceutical manufacturer PAPs that subsidize Part D cost-sharing amounts.

Cost-sharing subsidies offered by a pharmaceutical manufacturer PAP to the dispensing supplier differ in two important respects from a provider's or supplier's unadvertised, non-routine waiver of cost-sharing amounts based on a patient's financial need, which has long been permitted. First, the subsidies result in the dispensing supplier receiving full payment for the product and avoiding the risk of non-collection, thus providing the supplier with an economic incentive to favor the subsidized product and a disincentive to recommend a lower-cost alternative, such as a generic. In addition, the availability of PAP assistance is typically advertised and may influence a beneficiary's choice of product (through the prescribing physician acting on behalf of the beneficiary). Moreover, once a beneficiary is enrolled in a pharmaceutical manufacturer PAP, the beneficiary is effectively locked into using the pharmaceutical manufacturer's product, since the beneficiary risks losing financial assistance if he or she switches products, even if an equally effective, but less expensive, product would be in his or her best medical interests.

A definitive conclusion regarding whether a particular manufacturer PAP violates the anti-kickback statute would require a case-by-case analysis of all of the relevant facts and circumstances, including the intent of the parties. However, for the reasons noted above, we believe that pharmaceutical manufacturer PAPs that subsidize Part D cost-sharing amounts raise substantial concerns under the anti-kickback statute.

B. Independent Charity PAPs

Long-standing OIG guidance makes clear that pharmaceutical manufacturers can effectively contribute to the pharmaceutical safety net by making cash donations to independent, bona fide charitable assistance programs.[14]

Under a properly structured program, donations from a pharmaceutical manufacturer to an independent, bona fide charity that provides cost-sharing subsidies for Part D drugs should raise few, if any, anti-kickback statute concerns, so long as:

(i) Neither the pharmaceutical manufacturer nor any affiliate of the manufacturer (including, without limitation, any employee, agent, officer, shareholder, or contractor (including, without limitation, any wholesaler, distributor, or pharmacy benefits manager)) exerts any direct or indirect influence or control over the charity or the subsidy program;

(ii) The charity awards assistance in a truly independent manner that severs any link between the pharmaceutical manufacturer's funding and the beneficiary (i.e., the assistance provided to the beneficiary cannot be attributed to the donating pharmaceutical manufacturer);

(iii) The charity awards assistance without regard to the pharmaceutical manufacturer's interests and without regard to the beneficiary's choice of product, provider, practitioner, supplier, or Part D drug plan;

(iv) The charity provides assistance based upon a reasonable, verifiable, and uniform measure of financial need that is applied in a consistent manner; and [15]

(v) The pharmaceutical manufacturer does not solicit or receive data from the charity that would facilitate the manufacturer in correlating the amount or frequency of its donations with the number of subsidized prescriptions for its products.[16]

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Simply put, the independent charity PAP must not function as a conduit for payments by the pharmaceutical manufacturer to patients and must not impermissibly influence beneficiaries' drug choices.[17]

We recognize that some bona fide independent charities reasonably focus their efforts on patients with particular diseases (such as cancer or diabetes) and that some of these charities permit donors to earmark their contributions generally for support of patients with a specific disease. In general, the fact that a pharmaceutical manufacturer's donations are earmarked for one or more broad disease categories should not significantly raise the risk of abuse. However, we are concerned that, in some cases, charities may artificially define their disease categories so narrowly that the earmarking effectively results in the subsidization of one (or a very few) of donor's particular products. For example, we would be concerned if disease categories were defined by reference to specific symptoms, severity of symptoms, or the method of administration of drugs, rather than by diagnoses or broadly recognized illnesses or diseases. This type of arrangement would present an elevated risk of fraud and abuse because of the increased likelihood that the PAP would function as an improper conduit for manufacturers to provide funds to patients using their specific drugs. To avoid this risk, pharmaceutical manufacturers should not influence, directly or indirectly, the identification of disease or illness categories,[18] and pharmaceutical manufacturers should limit their earmarked donations to PAPs that define categories in accordance with widely recognized clinical standards and in a manner that covers a broad spectrum of available products.[19]

C. PAPs Operating Outside Part D

CMS has issued guidance stating that PAPs may elect to provide free drugs to financially needy Medicare Part D enrollees outside the Part D benefit.[20] In these circumstances, the beneficiary obtains drugs without using his or her Part D insurance benefit. Beginning when a beneficiary's assistance under a PAP became effective, no claims for payment for any covered outpatient prescription drug provided outside of the Part D benefit may be filed with a Part D plan or the beneficiary, and the assistance must not count toward the beneficiary's TrOOP or total Part D spending for any purpose. For the reasons noted in connection with pharmaceutical manufacturer PAPs discussed above, PAPs that provide assistance outside the Part D benefit only during the coverage gap (i.e., “wrapping around” the Part D benefit) pose a heightened risk of abuse. However, while it is difficult to assess the application of the fraud and abuse laws to PAPs that operate outside Part D absent a specific set of facts, it would appear that PAPs that furnish free outpatient prescription drugs entirely outside the Part D benefit pose a reduced risk under the anti-kickback statute, provided that:

(i) The PAP includes safeguards that ensure that Part D plans are notified that the drug is being provided outside the Part D benefit so that no payment is made for the subsidized drug by any Part D plan and no part of the costs of the subsidized drug is counted toward any beneficiary's TrOOP;

(ii) The PAP provides assistance for the whole Part D coverage year (or the portion of the coverage year remaining after the beneficiary first begins receiving the PAP assistance);[21]

(iii) The PAP assistance remains available even if the beneficiary's use of the subsidized drug is periodic during the coverage year;

(iv) The PAP maintains accurate and contemporaneous records of the subsidized drugs to permit the Government to verify the provision of drugs outside the Part D benefit;

(v) Assistance is awarded based on reasonable, uniform, and consistent measures of financial need and without regard to the providers, practitioners, or suppliers used by the patient or the Part D plan in which the patient is enrolled; and

(vi) The arrangement complies with any then-existing guidance from CMS.

In addition, to promote quality of care, we believe it would be important for PAPs that provide free drugs outside the Part D benefit to coordinate effectively with Part D plans so that the plans can undertake appropriate drug utilization review and medication therapy management program activities.

D. “Coalition Model” PAPs

We are aware of nascent efforts by some in the industry to develop arrangements through which multiple pharmaceutical manufacturers would join together to offer financially needy Part D enrollees a card or similar vehicle that would entitle the enrollees to subsidies of their cost-sharing obligations for the manufacturers' products, typically in the form of discounts off the negotiated price otherwise available to the enrollee under his or her Part D plan. It is premature to offer definitive guidance on these evolving programs. Although these programs would operate so that the manufacturers effectively underwrite only the discounts on their own products, we observe that the risk of an illegal inducement potentially may be reduced if: (i) The program contains features that adequately safeguard against incentives for card holders to favor one drug product (or any one supplier, provider, practitioner, or Part D plan) over another; (ii) the program includes a large number of manufacturers, including competing manufacturers and manufacturers of both branded and generic products, sufficient to sever any nexus between the subsidy and a beneficiary's choice of drug; and (iii) each participating pharmaceutical manufacturer offers subsidies for all of its products that are covered by any Part D plan formulary. Other safeguards may also be needed to reduce the risk of an improper inducement. Moreover, a program under which Part D enrollees pay a portion of their drug costs out-of-pocket would tend to reduce the risk of abuse by preserving the beneficiary's incentive to locate and purchase equally effective, lower cost drugs. Start Printed Page 70628

IV. Bulk Replacement Models

Bulk replacement” or similar programs, pursuant to which pharmaceutical manufacturers (or their affiliated PAPs) provide in-kind donations in the form of free drugs to pharmacies, health centers, clinics, and other entities that dispense drugs to qualifying uninsured patients, are different from traditional PAPs that provide assistance directly to patients. These programs potentially implicate the Federal anti-kickback statute if the free drugs are given to a recipient that is in a position to generate Federal health care program business for the donor manufacturer. Whether a particular bulk replacement program complies with the fraud and abuse laws would require a case-by-case analysis. In undertaking any analysis, we would consider, among other factors, how the program is structured and whether there are safeguards in place: (i) To protect Federal health care program beneficiaries from being steered to particular drugs based on the financial interests of their health care providers or suppliers; (ii) to protect the Federal health care programs from increased program costs; and (iii) to ensure that bulk replacement drugs are not improperly charged to Federal health care programs. Additionally, bulk replacement as a means of subsidizing only the Medicare Part D cost-sharing amount potentially raises substantial risks related to accounting for the amount of replacement drug that would be equivalent to the cost-sharing amount owed by the beneficiary; properly attributing that amount to specific beneficiaries; and properly calculating TrOOP.

V. Transitioning From Existing Pharmaceutical Manufacturer PAPs

OIG is mindful of the importance of a smooth, effective transition for beneficiaries who are currently participating in pharmaceutical manufacturer PAPs and elect to enroll in Medicare Part D. While most such enrollees are likely to qualify for the low-income subsidies available under Part D, we are concerned that there may not be sufficient independent charity PAPs available before the January 1, 2006 start date of the Part D program to accommodate beneficiaries of limited means who may need an alternative PAP arrangement. We recognize the importance of not unnecessarily burdening or alarming beneficiaries. We believe that manufacturers will play an important role in ensuring an effective transition.

With respect to pharmaceutical manufacturer PAPs that are in existence prior to the date of publication of this Special Advisory Bulletin, during the initial calendar year of the Part D benefit, OIG will take into consideration in exercising its enforcement discretion with respect to administrative sanctions arising under the anti-kickback statute whether the PAP is taking prompt, reasonable, verifiable, and meaningful steps to transition patients who enroll in Part D to alternative assistance models, such as independent charities.

In addition to taking steps to transition beneficiaries to other programs, pharmaceutical manufacturer PAPs can reduce their fraud and abuse exposure by taking one or more of the following steps: (i) Adjusting financial need criteria to reflect the lower drug costs incurred by Part D enrollees (i.e., liability for premiums and cost-sharing amounts only, instead of the total cost of the drugs); (ii) where possible, subsidizing other drugs in the same class as the manufacturer's products covered by the PAP if a beneficiary's physician prescribes an alternate product; and (iii) checking CMS eligibility files, to the extent available, on a reasonably regular basis to determine whether PAP patients have enrolled in Part D and should be transitioned to other assistance programs. Occasional, inadvertent cost-sharing subsidies provided to a Part D enrollee should not be problematic (e.g., where, despite due diligence, a pharmaceutical manufacturer PAP does not know and should not have known that a beneficiary has enrolled in Medicare Part D). Notwithstanding a pharmaceutical manufacturer's compliance with the foregoing, the Government will take enforcement action in cases where there is evidence of unlawful intent.

The potential variability of PAPs, the fact that the Part D program is not yet operational, and the fact that it is not possible to predict all future or potential fraud and abuse schemes with certainty, make it difficult to provide comprehensive general guidance on the application of the anti-kickback statute to PAPs for Part D enrollees at this time. We intend to monitor the situation closely and may issue further guidance, if needed. Nothing in this Bulletin should be construed as precluding any form of lawful assistance not described in this Bulletin.

VI. OIG Advisory Opinion Process

OIG has an advisory opinion process that is available to individuals and entities, including pharmaceutical manufacturers, that want assurance that they will not run afoul of the fraud and abuse laws.[22] OIG advisory opinions are written opinions that are legally binding on OIG, the Department, and the party that requests the opinion. To obtain an opinion, the requesting party must submit a detailed, written description of its existing or proposed business arrangement. The length of time that it takes for OIG to issue an opinion varies based upon a number of factors, including the complexity of the arrangement, the completeness of the submission, and how promptly the requestor responds to requests for additional information. Further information about the process, including frequently asked questions, can be found on the OIG Web page at​fraud/​advisoryopinions.html.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) was established at the Department of Health and Human Services by Congress in 1976 to identify and eliminate fraud, abuse, and waste in the Department's programs and to promote efficiency and economy in departmental operations. OIG carries out this mission through a nationwide program of audits, investigations, and inspections. The Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program, established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), authorized OIG to provide guidance to the health care industry to prevent fraud and abuse and to promote the highest level of ethical and lawful conduct. To further these goals, OIG issues Special Advisory Bulletins about industry practices or arrangements that potentially implicate the fraud and abuse authorities subject to enforcement by OIG.

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Daniel R. Levinson,

Inspector General.

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2.  This Bulletin focuses on the application of the Federal anti-kickback statute. Other potential risk areas, including, for example, potential liability under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729-33, or other Federal or State laws, are not addressed here. Moreover, this Bulletin focuses on arrangements that involve pharmaceutical manufacturers directly or indirectly subsidizing Part D cost-sharing amounts. Programs that subsidize Part D premium amounts pose risks under the anti-kickback statute that are not addressed here. Similarly, PAPs established by health plans that subsidize cost sharing or premium amounts under Part D raise different issues and may require a different analysis. While this Bulletin may provide some useful guidance for other kinds of PAP arrangements, such PAPs are not specifically considered here.

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3.  For purposes of this Special Advisory Bulletin, a pharmaceutical manufacturer PAP includes any PAP that is directly or indirectly operated or controlled in any manner by a pharmaceutical manufacturer or its affiliates (including, without limitation, any employee, agent, officer shareholder, or contractor (including, without limitation, any wholesaler, distributor, or pharmacy benefits manager)). Moreover, for purposes of an anti-kickback analysis, we would not consider a charitable foundation (or similar entity) formed, funded or controlled by a manufacturer or any of its affiliates (including, without limitation, any employee, agent, officer, shareholder, or contractor (including, without limitation, any wholesaler, distributor, or pharmacy benefits manager)) to be a bona fide, independent charity, because interposition of the entity would not sever the nexus between the patient subsidies and the manufacturer. Indeed, in most cases, the foundation would receive all of its funding from the pharmaceutical manufacturer (or its affiliates) and would provide subsidies only for the manufacturer's products.

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4.  See, e.g., section 1128A(i)(6)(A) of the Act; OIG Special Advisory Bulletin on Offering Gifts and Other Inducements to Beneficiaries, August 2002, The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) included a safe harbor specifically incorporating these criteria for waivers of cost-sharing amounts for Part D drugs. Additionally, the safe harbor protects cost-sharing waivers offered to individuals who qualify for the low income subsidy, even if the waivers are routine and do not follow an individualized determination of financial need, provided they are not advertised. See Section 1860D-42 of MMA, codified at 42 U.S.C. 1320a-7b(b)(3)(G).

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7.  In some cases, a subsidy for Part D cost-sharing obligations provided by a pharmaceutical manufacturer may also implicate the prohibition on offering inducements to beneficiaries, as set forth in section 1128A(a)(5) of the Act, if the subsidy is likely to influence the beneficiary's selection of a particular provider, practitioner, or supplier, such as a physician or pharmacy. We have interpreted “provider, practitioner, or supplier” to exclude pharmaceutical manufacturers unless they also own or operate pharmacies, pharmaceutical benefits management companies, or other entities that file claims for payment under the Medicare or Medicaid programs. See Special Advisory Bulletin on Offering Gifts and Other Inducements to Beneficiaries, supra note 4.

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8.  See 42 CFR 423.100; 42 CFR 423.464; 70 FR 4194, 4239 (January 28, 2005). We note that CMS is the proper agency to address questions about the mechanics of calculating TrOOP. In certain circumstances, knowing improper TrOOP calculations may give rise to liability under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729-33.

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9.  See 70 FR 4194 at 4239.

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10.  See, e.g., OIG Advisory Opinion Nos. 02-13 and 03-3 (unfavorable opinions involving proposals from pharmaceutical manufacturer PAPs to subsidize Part B cost-sharing amounts). We note that the cost and utilization management features of the Part D program, while important, do not sufficiently mitigate the risks.

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11.  Some in the industry have asserted that cost-sharing subsidies for Part D drugs differ from cost-sharing subsidies for Part B drugs so long as the subsidies are given to patients who are in a Part D “coverage gap” (i.e., a benefit period during which the beneficiary pays 100% of the cost of the drugs). To support their position, they contend either that beneficiaries in the coverage gap are functionally “uninsured” or that the situation is comparable to providing free drugs to financially needy beneficiaries so long as no Federal health care program is billed for all or part of the drug, a practice we previously permitted in the context of subsidies for Part B drugs. See OIG Advisory Opinion Nos. 02-13 and 03-3. Under Part D, a “coverage gap” is a period of insurance coverage. See CMS Frequently Asked Question ID 4855,​cgi-bin/​cmshhs.cfg/​php/​enduser/​std_​adp.php?​p_​faqid=​4855 (regarding prescription drug benefit coordination of benefits and TrOOP). During the coverage gap, beneficiaries remain enrolled in their Part D plans and have a continuing obligation to pay Part D premiums; Part D plans continue to receive the monthly per-enrollee direct subsidy from the Medicare program. Moreover, subsidies during the coverage gap are not like furnishing free drugs where no Federal health care program is billed. Sufficient spending during the coverage gap qualifies the beneficiary to reach the catastrophic coverage portion of the Part D benefit, at which point the Medicare program resumes payment for most of the costs of the beneficiary's drugs. In this regard, the different structures of the Part B and Part D benefits are crucial to the analysis.

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12.  See 42 CFR 423.329. For purposes of calculating payments under catastrophic coverage, the cost of a beneficiary's drug is based in part on the plan's negotiated price (i.e., a price that is set by the plan based on negotiations with pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacies).

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14.  In-kind donations of drugs to independent charity PAPs pose additional risks not yet directly addressed in prior OIG guidance, and we have insufficient experience with them to offer detailed guidance here. While in-kind donations have the potential benefit of increasing the value of donations (because marginal costs of drugs are generally low), they also have the effect of creating a direct correlation between the donation and use of a particular donor's product, thereby weakening important safeguards of an independent charity PAP arrangement. Moreover, there would appear to be difficult accounting and valuation issues raised by the use of in-kind product to subsidize Part D cost-sharing obligations, both for purposes of calculating TrOOP and for purposes of determining the amount of in-kind drug that equals the Part D cost-sharing amount owed.

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15.  We recognize that what constitutes an appropriate determination of financial need may vary depending on individual patient circumstances. We believe that independent charity PAPs should have flexibility to consider relevant variables beyond income. For example, PAPs may choose to consider the local cost of living; a patient's assets and expenses; a patient's family size; and the scope and extent of a patient's medical bills.

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16.  We have previously approved a bona fide independent charity PAP arrangement that included only limited reporting of aggregate data to donors in the form of monthly or less frequent reports containing aggregate data about the number of all applicants for assistance in a disease category and the number of patients qualifying for assistance in that disease category. See OIG Advisory Opinion No. 02-1. No individual patient information may be conveyed to donors. Moreover, neither patients nor donors may be informed of the donation made to the PAP by others, although, as required by Internal Revenue Service regulations, the PAP's annual report and a list of donors may be publicly available. See OIG Advisory Opinion No. 04-15. Reporting of data that is not in the aggregate or that is patient specific would be problematic, as would reporting of any data, whether or not in the aggregate, related to the identity, amount, or nature of subsidized drugs.

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17.  For further guidance on establishing compliant independent charity PAPs, see OIG Advisory Opinion Nos. 04-15, 02-1, 98-17, and 97-1 (favorable opinions issued to bona fide, independent charities that accept industry funding).

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18.  Nothing in this Bulletin should be construed as preventing a charity from obtaining educational materials from donors that the donors generally make available to practitioners or the general public (e.g., clinical information about drug products).

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19.  We recognize that, in rare circumstances, there may only be one drug covered by Part D for the diseases in a particular category or only one pharmaceutical manufacturer (including its affiliates) that makes all of the Part D covered drugs for the diseases in a particular category. In these unusual circumstances, the fact that a disease category only includes one drug or manufacturer would not, standing alone, be determinative of an anti-kickback statute violation. Such a determination could only be made on a case-by-case basis after examining all of the applicable facts and circumstances, including the intent of the parties. We note that it would be important for the PAP program to cover additional products or manufacturers as they become available.

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20.  See CMS Frequently Asked Question ID 6153,​cgi-bin/​cmshhs.cfg/​php/​enduser/​std_​adp.php?​p_​faqid=​6153 (regarding PAPs providing assistance with Part D drug costs to Part D enrollees outside of the Part D benefit and without counting towards TrOOP).

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21.  We note that our position that PAPs operating outside the Part D benefit should provide assistance for the remainder of the coverage year is consistent with our observation in several advisory opinions that manufacturers “may provide free drugs to financially needy beneficiaries, so long as no Federal health care program is billed for all or part of the drugs.” OIG Advisory Opinion Nos. 02-13 and 03-3.

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22.  Section 1128D(b) of the Act; 42 CFR part 1008.

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[FR Doc. 05-23038 Filed 11-21-05; 8:45 am]