Thinking about health: Part 2

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Patient assistance programs are nothing new. Several years ago I sat next to a drug company executive at a dinner and asked him why his company made it so hard for poor people to qualify for assistance. (The requirements can be difficult to meet.) He replied that if the company were more generous, it would hurt the bottom line.
The bottom line is still all-important, but today drug makers have a PR problem. They need to appear more benevolent. There’s genuine public backlash against their companies’ pricing strategies, and Congress is asking questions. By becoming more “patient centric,” a word they use to describe their marketing path, they look like good guys while keeping prices high and profits up.
Drug companies have another problem patient assistance programs aim to solve. Large numbers of patients are not taking their medicines as their doctors ordered, either because they can’t afford them or because the medicines make them sick. No matter the reason, it translates into lost sales.
Stats from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics show that only 25 percent of patients with drug deductibles will most likely still be taking their brand name drugs after six months compared with 40 percent in plans without such deductibles.
The rate at which patients don’t pick up with meds at the pharmacy is 60 percent higher for new patients with brand drug prescriptions and drug deductibles than those who don’t have drug deductibles. “If patients walk away, they frequently don’t come back with an alternative prescription,” says Pollpeter.
According to Matt Lamkin, an assistant professor at the University of Tulsa College of Law who studies this issue, drug companies believe “they are leaving billions on the table” when patients don’t take their pills. Trying to help more people stay on their meds “reframes the goal of boosting sales as a goal of public service,” he told the health news site STAT.
Transforming drug companies from bad guys to good guys with the magic of PR will help some patients get cheaper medicines and no doubt boost sales. It will do little to get us out of the big-picture jam. Drug prices are still too high and out of reach for too many Americans.

By Trudy Lieberman

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