Ready, Fire, Aim: How Not to Approach COVID Pricing Discussions

COVID-19. Photo Credit: CDC

>>Register now for the upcoming webinar, It's Time to Talk About COVID-19 Prices.<<

In today’s 24-7 media cycle, there’s a rush to be the first out of the gate when it comes to getting announcements out on social media. That “ready, fire, aim” approach can be harmful, especially when sharing health care information. The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review’s (ICER) initial report on COVID-19 treatments was a prime example of rushed information; today they released a new report that differs greatly from the first, making us wonder why they didn’t wait a few weeks to produce a comprehensive and inclusive analysis. For example, ICER’s new pricing estimate based upon the costs related to the research and production of a treatment (cost recovery) increased 160-fold (from $10 to an upper range now of $1,600, since the costs to develop the treatment were ignored in the prior report), and their cost effectiveness-based price also substantially increased.

We raised concerns with their approach in a Health Affairs article, recognizing that the treatment for COVID-19 would bring tremendous value to society – but are we prepared to pay for this value? How do we make sure innovation in medicine continues to grow after this pandemic is over?  What incentives should society offer for current and future work in keeping us safe? And, how best to answer these questions with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders?

We aren’t alone in our concerns. This week, Health Affairs published an article about other factors that need to be considered when valuing COVID-19 treatments, but were not included in the ICER assessment. The article points out that an appropriate value/price assessment of a COVID-19 treatment should also include factors such as reducing the fear of contagion; the reassurance that a drug would be available if you were to become ill; scientific spillover to subsequent drug development; and the broad impact on the well-being of one’s family. Other articles have raised concerns about underpricing treatments or using reference-based pricing; while we appreciate the ideas that are being raised, we disagree with the latter approach.

As we wrote in Health Affairs, “[m]edicine has a long tradition of identifying and grappling with hard questions. And there is no doubt that it is now the time to come together, roll up our sleeves, and have these difficult – but critical – conversations.”

Now is not the time to “ready, fire and then aim” when it comes to health care. There is plenty of room for an evidence-based, meaningful dialogue, and that’s why we’ve asked authors of recent articles to join us for a webinar on July 14. We encourage you to join us in this important conversation as well – register via the National Pharmaceutical Council’s website.