When President Trump announced the broad strokes of his drug price reform initiative, some of these measures seemed on target to benefit the biosimilars industry. However long awaited, makers of originator biologics seemed not to be worried about its implications. The President may not be able to effect much change, without causing unintended adverse consequences.
According to its blueprint, the Trump Administration “believes it is time to realign the system in four ways: increasing competition, improving government negotiation tools, creating incentives for lower list prices, and bringing down out-of-pocket costs for consumers.”
Increasing competition is critical to improving biosimilar access. But this cannot be achieved with one action. Several areas—some addressed and others not by the blueprint—are key.
Reining in Drug Patent Abuse
Aimed squarely at drug makers who try to extend exclusivity through multiple patent filings, this is the one action that could improve biosimilar prospects. Limited biosimilar access is caused by the inability to market these drugs after Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Patent litigation is the number 1 issue here. The President said, “Our patent system will reward innovation, but it will not be used as a shield to protect unfair monopolies.”
Without significant overhaul of the drug patent system (or the system for ruling on the validity of patents), this is unlikely to benefit biosimilar manufacturers in the near term. This effort could take many years and may have negative effects on the protection of legitimate intellectual property.
This is likely to result in little relief for the biosimilar industry.
Price Disclosures in Consumer Advertising
The fact that originator specialty biologics—the medications targeted for biosimilar competition—cost thousands of dollars may be a revelation to consumers who pay fixed copays for them. President Trump’s plan would require manufacturers to disclose the cost of the drug on direct-to-consumer advertisements.
The assumption is that this would be required across the board, including biosimilars. Would consumers recognize that their Renflexis® biosimilar costs thousands less than Remicade® in terms of wholesale acquisition cost? Not likely. In terms of net cost to the payer (not the patient generally), the price differential is far less. Even if the true costs were posted on consumer advertising, Mr. and Mrs. Smith would still hear or see that Renflexis costs thousands of dollars. They may even be further confused, because their out-of-pocket cost will likely be far less, unless a deductible applies.
An Emphasis on Value-Based Purchasing
The Obama Administration was committed to expansion of value-based purchasing. The present administration wants to further explore the potential of this policy, but it has not spelled out any specifics. It could be a boon to biosimilars based on the implications of value-based purchasing itself. After all, biosimilars are in existence to provide better value. More details are needed on its extent and whether implementation will occur through Health and Human Services or through Congress before useful opinions can be rendered.
Lower Drug Prices in US, Higher Elsewhere
The United States has very little ability to compel drug prices to rise for health systems in Europe, Canada, or Mexico, for instance, and as a result, lower them in this country. Pharmaceutical companies charge what the market will bear. Unless the Trump Administration can somehow convince the UK to pay more for Rituxan®/MabThera®, Humira®, or Enbrel®, these drug prices will not be altered.
There are reasons these countries pay the prices they do. It is related to their bidding or tender systems and the fact that other countries will exclude coverage at higher prices.
Consider another practical issue—why does a price increase in Germany mean a price decrease in the US (and for whom—Medicare, Medicaid, 340b facilities, commercial plans)? If such a move could be achieved, how does the Administration convince drug makers to apply those greater revenues obtained globally to greater discounts or rebates to Americans? It is more likely that the pharmaceutical industry will pass the increased profits to shareholders.
If these specialty drugs were forced to lower their price in the US, would that apply to biosimilars as well? That may not work towards long-term viability of the industry, depending on the measures taken.
Removing Rebates and Improving the Value of Biosimilars
One thing can actually improve cost transparency and possibly force pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to change their value model. If the Congress decides that drug rebates run afoul of laws against kickbacks, this could compel far lower wholesale acquisition costs (WACs). It would also have the effect of lowering patients’ cost sharing. Co-insurance is commonly based on the WAC not the net cost of the drug to the payer or PBM.
In this case, biosimilar manufacturers’ true WAC discounts can be applied directly and drive the “rebate trap” out of existence.
Applying this rule to commercial plans, Medicare Advantage, and part D providers would be a direct improvement in the current situation and could lower system-wide health costs. That assumes that manufacturers don’t sense an opportunity to raise prices by say 8% when they no longer have to pay 15% rebates.
Missed Opportunity: Using the Negotiating Power of Medicare
If the Administration was interested in reining in drug costs, the first serious step would be to let the Medicare program negotiate with manufacturers. This large purchaser getting its best deals from the natural competitive marketplace. It may require some adjustments in Medicaid “best price” assumptions, however.
It does seem that biosimilar makers could benefit from several of the policy changes proposed by the Trump Administration. However, the blueprint released is just that—weak on details and not specific to avoiding unintended consequences. Furthermore, it does not anticipate the reactive responses of the stakeholders involved. I guarantee there will be much more discussion as the government’s actions are announced.