When Is It Good To Pay 300% Profit For A Medication?

Another interesting discussion at this Oncology event was about physician reimbursement for drugs.  In Oncology, one historical source of revenue (~50%) for physicians has been the medications they dispense and administer in their offices.  And, depending on who you believe, this has some degree of influence on what drugs they dispense.

The problem that was discussed is that today’s reimbursement model is ASP (Average Selling Price) plus 6% mark-up.  This assumes that everyone buys at some price near that average which by definition means that not everyone does.  One of the presenters suggested that physicians lose money on about 20-25% of the drugs they dispense and that it would need to be ASP + 12% for them to be positive on every drug.  (I don’t know the math here and am simply sharing the dialogue as I found it very intriguing.)

The examples that they kept talking about in several presentations were that for a generic drug that costs $40 then their margin is theoretically $2.40 (6%) versus for a brand drug that’s $4,000 where their margin is $240 (or 6%).  The suggestion was that if generics were reimbursed at 200-400% of ASP then it would take this economic factor out of the oncologists influence (when conscious or subconscious). 

It’s an interesting debate.  (Here’s some comments from another conference on this topic.)

On the flipside, some of this may go away with oral oncolytics being more common in the future (and therefore being more likely to be controlled by the PBM) although companies will look to enable in-office dispensing of these drugs also to help the physician from losing this income. 

The other strategy being pushed has been called “brown bagging” where the patient is directed to obtain their medications from a specific specialty pharmacy and then bring those to the oncology practice for them to use.  This eliminates the “buy-and-bill” approach but is not something that the physicians like (from what I know). 

At the end of the day, I don’t really care.  I think there are several key principles that if met would make me neutral to any solution:

  1. Are decisions made in the patient’s best interest or do financial implications impact clinical decisions?
  2. Is the safety of the patient impacted in any way?
  3. Is the patient experience impacted negatively in any way?
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