02 d’octubre 2014

Fasten seat belts

We have entered into an unknown new world: drug prices -for innovative drugs- are on track to disappear. The NHS has agreed a cap on expenditure for a hepatitis C (sofobusvir) new drug in €125m without disclosing the unit price. Some people may consider it an opaque strategy in times that politicians claim transparency.
In my opinion, such a situation allows to understand better that the pharmaceutical market for innovative drugs is mostly a monopsony (one buyer) in a monopoly (one seller), it is not a competitive market - and this is what I have always considered. Therefore, resource allocation is the result of a bargaining between both parties, and the unit price is irrelevant. The buyer wants to maximize health,  the seller is maximizing income, this is exactly the struggle.
The key question is: How much is NHS willing to pay for better health?. As far as  the budget is limited, the number of treatments times the price is not the right way to proceed to maximize health under constrained resources.
Any government has to set priorities for expenditure according to expected health value created. This information should be public. In any case, when a new drug is available the government should clearly define which benefits are cancelled and which are acceptable. A responsible minister can't  agree new expenditures without any budget.
Therefore, innovative pharmaceutical market is not really a market -right now is clear- and governments should set priorities according to resources available -right now is also clear that they haven't done it-.
Fasten seat belts, we are entering into trying times without any political compass-gps. Citizens are expecting something different. I still remember when Victor Fuchs told long time ago: usually health economists discuss incremental cost-effectiveness in limited marginal terms, the real issue appears when such an amount is enormous. The case of hepatitis C is the example of such a situation, and only health policy and deliberative democracy are the tools to confront it. Unfortunately, this was not the strategy applied nearby.

PS. Catalonia in contention, at Harvard Political Review. Must read, if you are interested on what's going on. Otherwise, try Bloomberg op-ed or LAtimes.

PS. Reading Francesc-Marc Alvaro op-ed I always learn something.

PS. Rating catalans' well-being by OECD.

Ricard Molina. Muntaner-Velódromo. Galeria Barnadas