John Q. Smith, a patient of Dr. Kelly’s has been receiving his biologic therapy for rheumatoid arthritis for more than a decade. He has been in contact with the reference manufacturer’s patient services hub for several years, and utilizes it both for payment assistance and for nurse support. He appreciates the co-pay coupon, which can save him hundreds of dollars, especially since his health plan has a high deductible.
The following year, his employer has changed its sponsored plan, and Mr. Smith finds himself in a situation where originator biologic is no longer preferred (or even excluded). Barring a successful medical exception appeal, he will have to start biosimilar therapy. He worries not only about whether the biosimilar will be as effective and safe, but also whether he will have to bear more of the cost of treatment. I might argue that the biosimilar drug maker’s hub services are extremely important to gaining uptake for patients and even some providers.
From a 30,000-foot view, this may not be as widely considered as contracting with payers and health systems. Early on, I assumed that all manufacturers’ patient/provider hub services were as similar as the biosimilarity of the drugs. However, it is one of the ground-level details that optimizes (or undercuts) an opportunity for gaining biosimilar uptake.
Consider if a biosimilar maker’s services program exposed its patient population to significantly greater cost sharing. The collective howl would certainly be heard by their doctors (and probably their plan or insurer). If the physicians’ offices received worse coordination services or administrative assistance from the new hub provider, the push back would be considerable as well.
The bar for patient and provider hub services is pretty high, but it is consistent. For example, Janssen’s CarePath covers the bases for Remicade®. Merck’s Renflexis® Access Program focuses on copay and ongoing financial assistance for patients and on coverage/reimbursement/prior authorization support and answering coding questions for doctors’ offices. Pfizer’s enCompass offers similar support functions.
When biosimilar manufacturers do receive the opportunity for plan coverage, they must ensure a transition of services that feels seamless to the patient and provider. Otherwise, John Q. Smith and his brethren will make their dissatisfaction (and challenges) known to anyone who will listen. Without a smooth transition, biosimilar makers risk not only drug coverage, but their reputation as well.