PhRMA: Compare drugs first, cost second

Pharma seems ready to embrace a big expansion in comparative effectiveness research, which happens to be one of the Obama administration's goals for healthcare reform. At least that's the word coming out of San Antonio as the annual meeting of PhRMA wraps up. In fact, the trade group's incoming chairman, David Brennan (CEO of AstraZeneca), told the Wall Street Journal Health Blog that comparing treatments for particular ailments has become a "market requirement," even if it's not a regulatory requirement (yet, anyway).

But support for those comparisons is conditional. If comparative effectiveness research focuses only on "effectiveness" and not on "cost-effectiveness," then it's great. If cost comes into the picture up front, then forget it. PhRMA's treasurer and J&J exec David Norton told the Health Blog that considering cost along with efficacy limits patients' treatment options. (We'd add that it could limit drugmakers' profits, too.)

Pharma's preferred approach, then, is this: Compare drugs/devices/services all you want. Decide which are most effective. Then and only then, "figure out how cost fits into the overriding decision," Norton said.

The industry has been working to persuade Congress that its cost-second approach is best. But some lawmakers have their eyes fixed firmly on the dollar signs. Others, it's true, see NICE-style limitations as the thin end of a socialist wedge. We'll see who prevails.

- see the AstraZeneca release
- read the Health Blog post