By Leslie Small

With concerns mounting about how health plan sponsors will pay for breakthrough treatments with ultra-high price tags, some major insurers are offering up new solutions aimed at easing that burden.

Cigna Corp. “appears at the forefront” of initiatives to cope with super-high-cost drugs, as Citi analyst Ralph Giacobbe puts it, given that the firm recently introduced a new solution that would help clients pay for and manage two gene therapies: Luxturna and Zolgensma.

Members whose plan sponsors pay a per-member per-month fee for Cigna’s new solution — called Embarc Benefit Protection — will pay nothing out of pocket for Zolgensma or Luxturna if they meet the clinical qualifications to be treated with one of those therapies.

“Employers are looking for solutions like that from their health plan partners and the PBMs,” says Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy for the National Business Group on Health. However, while offerings like Cigna’s could help employers “smooth out the spikes in expenses,” businesses remain concerned about the overall costs of breakthrough therapies in the pipeline, he notes.

Besides Cigna, other major names in the insurance sector, such as CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna and Anthem, Inc., are working on their own solutions to help cope with high-cost therapies, including annuity-style payment arrangements and value-based contracts.

David Dross, managed pharmacy practice leader at the consulting firm Mercer, says some large, self-insured employers that are concerned about ultra-costly treatments are rethinking their decision to forgo stop-loss coverage.

However, issues can arise if clinical and financial management of a high-cost drug are done separately, he adds. In other words, a plan sponsor may determine that a member qualifies for a high-cost drug, but the stop-loss carrier that’s taking on the financial responsibility may not agree.