Back in September, I mused that little was new in the drug pricing debate. Today, while it is still true that novel solutions are not under discussion, there does seem to be new energy to the debate. The issue has become a common topic on the campaign trail, and HHS is highlighting the importance of the issue by calling stakeholders together to inform and discuss possible solutions.
This event, the “HHS Pharmaceutical Forum: Innovation, Access, Affordability and Better Health,” on November 20, 2015, is by invitation only, but HHS has been inundated with requests for invitations. As I write this, there are hundreds of interested parties who have been relegated to a waitlist and presumably hundreds more who have simply given up and will watch over webcast.
As is the norm on government events around drug pricing, there will be a careful balance between the need to make drugs accessible and the need to promote pharmaceutical innovation. It is unlikely that the HHS event will rehash the Turing Pharmaceuticals mess, as most in attendance understand that to be an aberration. You can bet, though, that there will be broad discussion of different approaches to pricing, such as value-based purchasing, and even some acknowledgement that our current system is outdated. That said, don’t look for formal recommendations out of this forum, as none of the real solutions likely to be discussed will be met with widespread acceptance.
Instead, look for areas of agreement around the edges, on issues like medication adherence. Unlike the innovation versus access debate, this is a topic where just about everyone is in agreement. As a society, paying for drugs that patients fail to take as prescribed is, at best, a waste of resources and, at worst, the reason behind our antibiotic resistance epidemic.
It’s not clear yet whether the forum will address the newest challenges in Rx pricing, which is whether you can put a price tag on a miracle. See, for example, the latest developments at Spark Therapeutics. What is clear, though, is the drug pricing debate is here to stay at least a little while longer.