Affordability of Medicines—the New Kid on the Block

You know the feeling: you pop into the shop and see something you want to buy, but times are tight and you simply can’t afford it. You want the best, but you feel compelled to consider all your spending priorities and choose to go for the less expensive brand—it’s a question of affordability.

In today’s environment, this is a challenge facing healthcare systems throughout the world. Coupled with this, more healthcare resources are being consumed as people are living longer with increasingly complex health problems. Add to this the increased complexity of how national health systems are assessing a medicine’s value, and you have the perfect storm.

Indeed, just as you weigh up whether you can afford to pay for something, those who pay for medicines (termed “payers”) all have affordability at the forefront of their minds. Governments are addressing the issue by driving further healthcare reforms, while payers are aggressively managing costs, limiting therapy choice, and shifting more of the cost burden to consumers.

However, if industry is to effectively support payers in their informed decision-making, it is important that they are viewed as investors in their community’s health and not simply gatekeepers of the budget.

As investors in health, payers deploy a variety of instruments to support medicines’ cost control. These can be broadly divided into supply-side and demand-side approaches.

Demand-side instruments include:

  • National-level price negotiations/price cuts
  • Reference pricing systems–using the cost of other similar drugs to set the price
  • Health technology assessments–assessing the value of a medicine using a range of tools including cost- and comparative-effectiveness
  • Promoting generic medicines and parallel imports–parallel imports refer to the practice of importing a medicine from another market where the medicine is cheaper

Supply-side instruments include:

  • Patient co-payments–this is the practice where patients will pay a certain percentage of the medicine’s cost
  • Reimbursement restrictions–restricting the money paid for a particular drug
  • Delisting–removing a product from a list of drugs that will be paid for
  • Prescribing budgets–setting financial budgets for the prescribing of medicines
  • Formularies and guidelines–a list of medicines that have been approved to be prescribed, or their incorporation within guidelines that should be adhered to

To date, the pharmaceutical industry has focused predominantly on communicating about cost and cost-effectiveness to secure optimal pricing and reimbursement for their brands at a market level. Arguably, more needs to be done to demonstrate the true benefit of treatment to patients, the communities in which they live, and society at large.

Some solutions to help demonstrate the true value of a treatment include:

  • Evaluating and demonstrating the longer-term patient outcomes
  • Demonstrating and communicating the economic value across all stages of a product lifecycle
  • Supporting payers to identify which patient segments would benefit most from treatment
  • Relating the outcomes demonstrated through clinical trials to local demographics

There is no doubt that the industry continues to go through a challenging time, while the economic crisis faced by many countries is only likely to get worse. In this environment, the issue of affordability is higher up on governments’ and payers’ agendas. However, by understanding and meeting the needs of payers and their communities, the industry will be better placed to ensure patient access to their medicines.

 

 

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