There is little doubt that many newer medications offer little to no benefit over generics and this site and others have frequently noted that prescription practices often appear quite irrational. In psychiatry, for example, the movement to place everyone on Depakote and/or atypical antipsychotics for treating bipolar disorder was a marketing miracle considering that the evidence base never showed superior efficacy relative to lithium. The same story goes for treating schizophrenia with atypical antipsychotics over conventional antipsychotics (as well as ignoring psychosocial interventions) based on a set of obviously flawed studies. Or treating depression with newer antidepressants rather than generics or (especially) with psychotherapy, which is generally linked to better long-term outcomes.
Health plans are drawing scrutiny for offering financial incentives to entice doctors to prescribe cheaper generic medicines, including paying doctors $100 each time they switch a patient from a brand-name drug.
Pharmaceutical companies have long gone to great lengths to try to get doctors to prescribe their brand-name pills. They spend billions of dollars, plying physicians with samples, educational lunches and speaker fees. But as the patents for a growing number of blockbuster medicines expire, some health insurers are trying to trump those perks with bonuses or higher reimbursements for writing more generic prescriptions.
The idea, health plans say, is to save everyone -- patients, employers and insurers -- money. And many doctors argue that it's only right to reimburse them for spending time evaluating whether a cheaper generic alternative is better or as good for a patient.
But the more aggressive approaches, such as cash rewards for each patient switched from a given list of drugs, are coming under fire for injecting financial incentives into what some patient advocates and legislators say should be a purely medical decision. Medical societies are also concerned that such rewards may put doctors in the ethically questionable position of taking a payment that patients know nothing about.
Of course, as has been documented here and many other places, we know that Big Pharma utilizes a variety of methods to ensure that physicians prescribe newer drugs, even if such prescriptions are irrational. If we just consider this as a battle of mega-industries who want to maximize their profits (Pharma vs. Insurance), then maybe this is the unfettered free market at its best?
On one hand, we have Pharma using a variety of tricks, including: buying meals, providing all sorts of gifts, infomercials disguised as medical education, tricky statistics, burying negative findings, and just being sooooo good looking, and on the other we now have insurers providing kickbacks to doctors for prescribing generics. Both pharma and insurers are attempting to influence prescribing through methods far outside of providing objective medical information to physicians. I know that some favor a pure free market approach and if so, then I suppose that this is just the latest and greatest maneuver in which companies attempt to pimp their wares (Pharma) or buy physician loyalty to a different set of products (Insurers).
As for the patients, um, who is looking out for their interests? I realize that physicians genuinely want their patients to improve (well, maybe not this one), but is a system of competing interests trying to irrationally manipulate physicians' prescribing practices really the best way to ensure patient wellness?
By the way, how much $$$ could insurers save? See below.
To sum up the current state of affairs in four words: Dolla Dolla Bill Y'All