What’s replacing AWP?

As industry insiders have known for almost a year, Average Wholesale Price as published by First DataBank, is going away. Triggered by a settlement in a lawsuit filed in Boston in 2006, as of March 2011 FDB will no longer publish their version of AWP. (There’s a bit of disagreement as to timing, as one authoritative source indicates FDB is scheduled to discontinue the publishing of AWP in October 2011 (not March). I’ll find out what I can find out)
Regardless, FDB’s publication of AWP is going to cease. Sources indicate the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) is suggesting a move to a new pricing methodology based on Wholesale Acquisition Cost, or WAC.
What’s with WAC?
WAC is the manufacturer’s list price for drug wholesalers and direct purchasers, excluding prompt pay or other discounts. (Note WAC may not bear much resemblance to the actual price paid, a problem it shares with AWP…)
NACDS and drug retailers would like to see a conversion to WAC; in fact NACDS has been advocating WAC for at least five years. WAC is generally accepted in broad swaths of the payer community; around ten states use WAC in their Medicaid pricing; the huge TriCare program is also WAC-based.
Here’s a bit of history.
The original legal case rested on FDB’s selection of McKesson as the sole source of drug pricing data. FDB’s AWP was based on the actual price that McKesson paid for the drug, plus a margin. For years the typical margin was 20%; six years ago McKesson changed the margin to 25% to make it ‘simpler to administer pricing internally’.
The price increase also earned McKesson points with its customers, retail pharmacies, who saw an immediate increase in profitability – profits on Lipitor immediately jumped three-fold after the 2002 increase. As part of the settlement in the 2006 case, FDB agreed to stop publishing prices two years after the finalization of the settlement (which is March of next year).
As cognoscenti are well aware, the suit has already had repercussions. On September 26, 2009, First DataBank and MediSpan, the firms that publish Average Wholesale Pricing tables changed their methodology to revert to the 20% margin, thereby reducing the drug’s AWP cost by almost four percent.
Wait, it gets more complicated. FDB is not the only publisher of AWP, and AWP, as published by RedBook and MediSpan, may be around in some markets for a while. The case for the persistence of AWP is that it is broadly used today, and RedBook and Medispan have not been charged with the kind of pricing manipulation that led to the FDB settlement.
Conversely, for some time AWP has been disappearing in generic pricing, where it is being replaced by MAC (maximum allowable cost), FUL (Federal upper limit), and other methodologies that seem to provide a more objective and less fungible baseline.
There’s another reason AWP may be on life support; it is broadly reviled as few payers believe, and with good reason, it has any real objective basis.
Implications for workers’ comp
As I reported several months ago, work comp regulators are wrestling with the issue, as 33 states base their work comp fee schedule on AWP (California doesn’t). Where they end up will be heavily influenced by the metric chosen by group/Medicare/Medicaid; drug spend in comp is about 2% of the nation’s total bill of $220 billion.