So far as the pharmaceutical pricing and increasing access to healthcare are concerned, year 2010 perhaps will be remembered as one of the very significant years, at least, in the recent times. In this year with new healthcare reform, President Obama expanded access to Health Insurance to additional around 40 million Americans, the Government in Japan brought in, not much talked about, “premium for the development of new drugs and elimination of off-label drug use” and the Governments in UK and European Union, including the largest market in the EU – Germany, introduced stringent cost containment measures for pharmaceutical products.
Pharmaceutical pricing model is changing across the world:
Overall scenario for pharmaceutical pricing model has undergone significant changes across the world. The old concept of pharmaceutical price being treated as almost given and usually determined only by the market forces with very less regulatory scrutiny is gradually but surely giving away to a new regime.
It started, especially in the developed world, with the generation and submission of pharmacoeconomics data to the regulators for pharmaceutical pricing, by the pharmaceutical companies. However, shortcomings in that system gradually became subject of a raging debate. The newer concepts of Health Technology Assessment (HTA), Health Outcomes Analysis (HOA) and Value Based Pricing (VBP), have started gaining grounds.
Value Based Pricing (VBP):
Value based pricing is basically offering the best value for the money spent. It ‘is the costs and consequences of one treatment compared with the costs and consequences of alternative treatments’.
For pharmaceutical players, VBP perhaps would mean not charging more than the actual value of the product.
On the other hand, price being a function of value that a product would offer, it is also important for the regulators to understand what value in totality that the product would offer, not just for the patients’ treatment in particular, but for the civil society at large.
However, in India, the regulators are still far behind and groping in the dark to find out an appropriate solution to this critical issue. They seem to be quite contended with taking arbitrary, non-transparent populist decisions.
The concept is gaining ground:
The concept of ‘evidence-based medicine’ , as stated earlier, is gaining ground in the developed markets of the world, prompting the pharmaceutical companies generate requisite ‘health outcomes’ data using similar or equivalent products. Cost of incremental value that a product will deliver is of key significance. Some independent organizations like, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the UK have taken a leading role in this matter.
VBP could help in ‘freeing-up’ resources to go to front-line healthcare:
On November 11, 2010 ‘Pharma Times’ in a news item titled, “Government (UK) to consult on drug pricing in December’ reported the following:
“Consultation on the government’s plans to introduce value-based pricing (VBP) for medicines will begin next month, the Department of Health has announced.
The consultation will run until next March, the Department reveals in its newly-published business plan for 2011-15. The plan sets out the coalition government’s structural reform priorities for health care, which are to: – create a patient-led NHS; – promote better healthcare outcomes; – revolutionize NHS accountability; – promote public health; and -reform social care.
These reforms ‘will help to create a world-class NHS that saves thousands more lives every year by freeing up resources to go to the front line, giving professionals power and patients choice, and maintaining the principle that healthcare should be delivered to patients on the basis of need, not their ability to pay,’ says the Department”.
Global pharmaceutical companies using more ‘health outcome’ data to set pricing strategies:
Some global pharmaceutical majors have already taken pro-active measures on the subject. In early 2009, reported agreements between Sanofi-Aventis, Procter & Gamble and Health Alliance as well as Merck and Cigna vindicate this point. These agreements signify a major shift in the global pharmaceutical industry’s approach to gathering and using ‘health outcomes’ data
In the Sanofi-Aventis/Procter & Gamble-Health Alliance agreement, the concerned companies agreed to reimburse Health Insurance companies expenses incurred for patients suffering from non-spinal bone fracture while undergoing treatment with their drug Actonel.
In the Merck/Cigna agreement, Cigna will have the flexibility to price two diabetes drugs based on ‘health outcomes’ data.
‘Outcomes-based’ pricing strategies are expected to become the order of the day, in not too distant future, all over the world.
The ground realities in India are very different:
Medicines are very important and constitute a significant cost component of modern healthcare systems, across the world. In India, overall healthcare system is fundamentally different from many other countries, even China. In most of those countries around 80% of expenses towards healthcare including medicines are reimbursed either by the Governments or through Health Insurance or similar mechanisms. However, in India situation is just the reverse, about 80% of overall healthcare costs including medicines are private or out of pocket expenses incurred by the individuals/families.
Since 1970, the Government of India (GoI) has been adopting various regulatory measures like cost based price control and price monitoring to make medicines affordable to the common man. For those products, which are patented in India, it has now been reported that the Government is mulling the approach of price negotiation with the respective companies.
However, we should keep in mind that making drugs just affordable in India, where a large number of population does not have access to modern medicines for non-price related factors, is indeed not a core determinant of either healthcare value or proven health outcomes or both.
Till VBP is considered, cost-effective ‘health outcome’ based medical prescriptions should get priority:
Expenditure towards medicines can be considered as an investment made by the patients to improve their health and productivity at work. Maximizing benefits from such spending will require avoidance of those medicines, which will not be effective together with the use of lowest cost option with comparable ‘health outcomes’.
For this reason, many countries have started engaging the regulatory authorities to come out with head to head clinical comparison of similar or equivalent drugs keeping ultimate ‘health outcomes’ of patients in mind. A day may come in India, as well, when the regulatory authorities will concentrate on ‘outcomes-based’ pricing. However, in the Indian context, it appears, this will take some more time. Till then for ‘health outcome’ based medical prescriptions, working out ‘Standard Treatment Guidelines (STG)’ , especially for those diseases which are most prevalent in India, should assume high importance.
Standard Treatment Guidelines (STG):
STG is usually defined as a systematically developed statement designed to assist practitioners and patients in making decisions about appropriate cost-effective treatment for specific disease areas.
For each disease area, the treatment should include “the name, dosage form, strength, average dose (pediatric and adult), number of doses per day, and number of days of treatment.” STG also includes specific referral criteria from a lower to a higher level of the diagnostic and treatment requirements.
For an emerging economy, like India, formulation of STGs will ensure cost-effective healthcare benefits to a vast majority of population.
In India, STGs have already been developed for some diseases by the experts. These are based on review of current published scientific evidence towards acceptable way forward in diagnosis, management and prevention of various disease conditions. STGs, therefore, will provide:
- Standardized guidance to practitioners.
- Cost-effective ‘health outcomes’ based services.
GoI should encourage the medical professionals/institutions to lay more emphasis and refer to such ‘heath-outcomes’ based evidences, while prescribing medicines. This will ensure more cost effective ‘health outcomes’ for their patients.
Steps necessary for ‘Standard Treatment Guidelines (STG):
1. Get Standard Treatment Guidelines (STG) prepared for the diseases more prevalent in India, based on, among other data, ‘health outcomes’ studies.
2. Put the STG in place for all government establishments and private hospitals to start with.
3. Gradually extend STG in private medical practices.
4. Make implementation of STG a regulatory requirement.
Till VBP concept is considered appropriate for India by the regulators, STG model for drug usage would help both the doctors and the patients equally to contain the cost of treatment in general and the total cost of medicines in particular. Encouraging implementation of STGs in India, as a first step towards VBP, especially for prescription medicines, the country will require, above all, a change in the overall mindset of all concerned. The use of an expensive drug with no significant improvement in ‘health outcome’ should be avoided by the prescribers at any cost, initially through self-regulation and if it does not work, stringent regulatory measures must be strictly enforced for the same… for patients’ sake.
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.