From the Journals

Rollout of COVID-19 monoclonal antibodies lacked unified plan: expert panel


 

Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) to treat COVID-19 are in ample supply, but scant evidence on their effectiveness, paltry reimbursement, and a lack of a planned infrastructure to administer them has led to major underutilization of these potentially useful therapies, according to a new report from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The 35-page report described missed opportunities to work with states and hospitals to establish trust with clinicians and patients and to set up an infusion infrastructure to funnel patients to sites. Though the therapies still need more study, they should be an option for the right patient at the right time, said the National Academies experts in their report, Rapid Expert Consultation on Allocating COVID-19 Monoclonal Antibody Therapies and Other Novel Therapeutics.

“No potentially eligible patient should be left uninformed, and no eligible patient should be denied access, if there are doses available and the patient and doctor agree it is a reasonable course,” they concluded. The report also noted that underuse, and in particular underuse by members of vulnerable and underserved communities “raises concerns about exacerbating already dramatic health disparities.”

The federal government has spent $375 million on Eli Lilly’s bamlanivimab and $450 million on Regeneron’s casirivimab plus imdevimab cocktail, and agreed last month to spend as much as $2.6 billion more on up to 1.25 million additional doses.

Some 785,000 doses of the two therapeutics have been produced and about a half million have been distributed to states. But about three quarters have gone unused. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has launched an online treatment locater to try to spur interest in the therapies.

But the federal government hasn’t addressed some of the basic barriers to use of the monoclonals, said the National Academies experts.

“Lack of awareness, interest, and confidence in COVID-19 mAb therapies among patients and providers are major issues,” they said in the report. Patients who have tested positive might not want to travel to an infusion site, while others might not have access to health care or only seek such treatments when it’s too late. Some who are eligible might not have the time, resources, or transportation to go to a site and sit through a 2-hour treatment.

In addition, “the supply and availability of infusion centers and personnel was identified as a greater constraint than the supply of COVID-19 mAbs,” said the report.

Cost a big impediment

While the federal government has covered the cost of the therapies, hospitals and patients inevitably incur related costs.

“The fragmented payment system in the United States has not provided adequate support to cover the spectrum of costs associated with COVID-19 mAb therapies,” said the report. That is compounded by chronic underfunding and restrictions on federally qualified health centers for community health, the report said.

Patients may have to pay for testing, office visits, follow-up appointments, transportation to and from the infusion site, and potentially a copay for the administration of the drug.

While Medicare pays hospitals $309 per infusion, that might not be enough, especially if a hospital or other site had to build out a new infusion center, the report shows. For clinicians, the administrative payment under Medicare Part B does “not cover the total practice cost to furnish infusion services, resulting in a substantial cost-reimbursement disparity,” the report states.

In addition, there are no specific codes for observing patients during the 2-hour procedure.

“The established Medicare payment rate for furnishing COVID-19 mAb therapies does not cover the cost associated with coordinating care for those patients, nor does it justify the risk and opportunity costs associated with investing in infrastructure modifications to safely integrate COVID-19 patients into existing facilities or building temporary infusion capacity,” the report concluded.

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