Choosing more expensive drugs when cheaper ones exist

Long read in WaPo this weekend on drug choices:

The two drugs have been declared equivalently miraculous. Tested side by side in six major trials, both prevent blindness in a common old-age affliction. Biologically, they are cousins. They’re even made by the same company.

But one holds a clear price advantage.

Avastin costs about $50 per injection.

Lucentis costs about $2,000 per injection.

Doctors choose the more expensive drug more than half a million times every year, a choice that costs the Medicare program, the largest single customer, an extra $1 billion or more annually.

Spending that much may make little sense for a country burdened by ever-
rising health bills, but as is often the case in American health care, there is a certain economic logic: Doctors and drugmakers profit when more-costly treatments are adopted.

Genentech, a division of the Roche Group, makes both products but reaps far more profit when it sells the more expensive drug. Although Lucentis is about 40 times as expensive as Avastin to buy, the cost of producing the two drugs is similar, according to scientists familiar with the drugs and the industry.

Doctors, meanwhile, may benefit when they choose the more expensive drug. Under Medicare repayment rules for drugs given by physicians, they are reimbursed for the average price of the drug plus 6 percent. That means a drug with a higher price may be easier to sell to doctors than a cheaper one. In addition, Genentech offers rebates to doctors who use large volumes of the more expensive drug.

Kudos to Peter Whoriskey and Dan Keating for recognizing that physicians are part of the problem here. You really should go read the whole thing.

@aaronecarroll

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