Prescription Drugs – Health Care’s Low Hanging Fruit

There is an often overused metaphor equating things easily obtained with “low hanging fruit”.  And in the world of health care and consumer driven health care (CDH), there is perhaps NO lower hanging fruit to be had than prescription drugs.  I would further submit that few if any other product category in our entire economy has the sheer number of FREE…DISCOUNTED…REDUCED…SAMPLE offers connected to it, by a variety of constituencies including – manufacturers, distributors, insurers and employers – than do prescription drugs.  But do the very people these offers of “low hanging fruit” are directed toward understand the “what”, “why”, or even “where” associated with them?

A number of years ago (circa 2002) the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) did a study associated with two drugs in the Proton Pump/ACE Inhibitor therapeutic category (i.e., drugs that address acid reflux).  Both drugs were: (i) FDA approved; (ii) identical in effectiveness; (iii) physician prescribed at the time, for the same illness.  The 30 day supply cost of what I’ll call Drug No. 1? $105.44.  The 30 day supply cost of Drug No. 2? $12.46.  At the time, BCBSA calculated the ONE YEAR cost difference of filing Drug No. 1 versus Drug No. 2 to be a staggering – $10 BILLION DOLLARS!  In 1 year!  For just BCBSA members!

The entire Consumer Driven Health Care (CDH) concept (or for some, “movement”) seeks to better align consumers (see patients) with suppliers (see hospitals, doctors, pharmacies, etc.), without compromising quality of care our outcomes in the process.  With all due respect to my colleagues and friends in the world of Pharma, the vast majority of patients would do just fine taking the GENERIC alternative to the prescribed BRAND drug…and save themselves and their employers untold BILLIONS of dollars in the process.

I’ll close by providing two (2) valuable resources that further demonstrate my point:

ITEM No. 1: A list of drugs falling off the “patent cliff” (i.e., between 2011-2020, 47 drugs lost/lose their patent protection allowing for the manufacture and sale of significantly lower cost, generic alternatives).
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ITEM No. 2: The results of a fairly recent Consumer Reports study that evaluated the cost of five (5) generic drugs, representing an equal number of different therapeutic categories (i.e., diabetes, depression/anxiety, high cholesterol, heart attack/stroke prevention, and asthma).  This study found the cost difference for a month supply of all 5 drugs, purchased at over 200 pharmacies, to range from a low of $167 to a high of $916.  A 447% difference!
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Some food for thought to those opting to get the message out pertaining to “low hanging fruit” in the world of prescription drugs and CDH!