No thanks? Patients don’t credit pharma for co-pay discount programs, survey finds

Here's an unintended consequence of high drug prices: Patients feel entitled to pharma's help in paying for them.

Patients don't give drugmakers much, if any, credit for their discount programs on expensive meds, a recent survey by Treato found. They don't feel much gratitude for the co-pay help at all, in fact.

And in the rare case where patients did express gratitude for out-of-pocket discounts, it was to the physicians, pharmacies or hospitals that helped them track down the programs, Treato noted. Not the drugmaker that covered the bill.

The online consumer sentiment analysis looked specifically at Astellas and Medivation's prostate cancer drug Xtandi, Bayer and Johnson & Johnson's blood thinner Xarelto, and Pfizer's breast cancer drug Ibrance. Pamela Batzel, Treato’s senior director of consulting services, broke down the specifics of drug discount conversations on social media.

Many conversations did mention manufacturers by name: 33% for Xtandi, 77% for Ibrance and 74% for Xarelto.

But, as Batzel said in an email interview with FiercePharmaMarketing, “[W]hen these pharma companies were mentioned within online conversations, patients rarely expressed gratitude.” Patients “feel entitled to a drug discount program when prescribed a costly new drug,” she added.

With patients now expecting drug discount programs for costly drugs, and with payers on the other side none too excited about pharma pitching in, it seems drugmakers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Companies almost certainly have to keep offering the programs, but with no credit from patients and no goodwill from payers, is there any upside?

Treato believes that changes in pricing models are coming, and those changes “reflect the concerns of patients and caregivers.” Those changes might give pharma a better reputation among its audiences. A different marketing approach could also help.

“Pharma companies might consider communications campaigns that present the big picture of the significant effort they put into identifying molecules to help patients,” Batzel said. “Using this storytelling approach that includes sound bites from various scientists in lab settings, patients involved in trials, etc., pharma can highlight how much they’ve invested in this lengthy process.

"While the full price of a product may not always be covered, or covered enough, by an insurance company, the manufacturer wants to make sure that the patient knows they are invested in getting them the treatments they need,” Batzel said.

The survey found additionally that even though drug price was often a concern in discount program discussions, switching to less costly drugs was not often mentioned. Patients talked about switching just 1% of the time in Ibrance discussions and 4% of the time in Xtandi discussions.

The percentage was higher with Xarelto--23% mentioned trying an alternative drug. That's logical: Xarelto has two rival brands, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer's Eliquis and Boehringer Ingelheim's Pradaxa, in addition to the long-used generic warfarin, Batzel said.

Cancer is a special case, however, as Batzel points out. Ibrance is a first-in-class drug, and though Xtandi competes against J&J's Zytiga, the two drugs work differently. Cancer patients usually depend heavily on physicians for specific treatment recommendations, she said.

- see Treato release

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