Novartis’ launch of Kymriah has opened up a number of discussions about pharmaceutical pricing. Perhaps surprising to many, I’m going to completely sidestep that discussion. But a lot of the talk of Kymriah returns to ‘value-based’ pricing. So today I want to go back and reinforce the points I’ve been making about the potential that the future will look more like it does today. While it’s tempting to see a future, where indication-based pricing dominates, I think this marks complexity for complexity’s sake. What other industry can we think of where the WAY a product is used determines its value. What we need to successfully differentiate pricing is differentiation – think Avastin and Lucentis, for starters.

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Photo credit Zach Dischner

Yes, stock quotations vary depending upon the time duration of their delay. “Live” quotes are most costly, slight delays moderately priced, and 15-minute delay cheapest (often included for free).

You’d walk out of your luxury car dealership if the price that you paid depended upon HOW you were going to use the car. So why the tendency to think that this is the future of pharma? “Well health care is different” you hear the proponents saying.

How so? Healthcare buyers have every right to use the products as they see fit. Worst still, doctors in the U.S. have the explicit ability to use FDA approved drugs for any use they see fit – further complicating payers’ decisions as to how to cover products, and what to cover. So, the current conversation goes, the way to decrease drug prices, while balancing Pharma profits is indication-based pricing. But this simply provides doctors and insurers the incentive to document the use of the product for the lowest cost indication. Unless, of course, the manufacturer pays for the testing required to document the actual indication – and this introduces all sorts of privacy concerns…

And what about complexity? Healthcare is complex. To demonstrate the various and complex value of pharmaceuticals, the industry has hired numerous highly educated and brilliant health economists & pharmacoeconomic experts. I argue that during this period we’ve seen a HUGE increase in prices and an ever-decreasing value of these medications to the GENERAL population. Certainly, we can’t BLAME the PHDs. for this. They are a symptom, not the disease. But who’s stepping back from this insanity and asking whether this is the kind of system we want to have. I don’t want to be the only dissenting voice here.

Now that the industry has all these ‘value justifying professionals’ there’s a huge need to justify value.

My suggestion is, and will always be, to simplify pricing. To stick to simple, intuitive pricing schemes with some sometimes-I-win-sometimes-you-win outcomes. As I’ve argued, there’s more areas of complexity in value-based contracting than there are rays of light – at least now.  

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