By Leslie Small and Judy Packer-Tursman

In a move that Wall Street analysts deemed a win for the managed care industry, the Trump administration decided to withdraw a proposed rule that would have overhauled the prescription drug rebate system in Medicare Part D.

The proposed rule, first released in February, would have removed safe-harbor protections under the federal anti-kickback statute for rebates paid by drug manufacturers to PBMs, Part D plans and Medicaid managed care organizations, and it would have created a new safe-harbor protection for point-of-sale drug discounts.

Citi analyst Ralph Giacobbe told investors his firm expects the news “to be favorable most specifically to entities with larger PBM exposure (Cigna Corp., CVS Health Corp./Aetna and UnitedHealth Group) as it eliminates the uncertainty and overhang that the rebate rule had on those companies.”

Meanwhile, industry experts expressed surprise at the administration’s pullback on the rebate proposal and its timing.

“My initial reaction is it’s surprising given the amount of capital the administration has put into this policy,” says Matt Kazan, a principal in Avalere Health’s policy practice. He adds dropping the rebate rule increases the likelihood that the Trump administration will move forward on other proposals to show progress in its vow to lower drug costs.

Kazan points to various implications for health plans in the rebate rule’s demise. “Certainly, a lot of the uncertainty about 2020 and 2021 goes away in terms of bidding and Part D,” he says. But if Congress makes structural changes to Part D that it’s considering, he says there could be greater liability for plans in the catastrophic phase of the benefit.