Insurers pay docs for generic-switching

Maybe the folks probing drug company payments to docs should expand their field a bit. Now, health plans are drawing scrutiny for paying physicians to prescribe cheaper generics rather than brand-name drugs. Some are even greasing docs' palms each time they switch patients off branded meds.

Patient advocates and legislators are fired up about it, worried that decisions based at least in part on financial incentives are inherently suspect. One would think that pharma could get fired up, too. After all, drug makers already face enough generic pressure.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the incentive plan that's drawn the most fire is one started last year by Blue Care Network, part of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Primary care docs got $100 for each plan member who switched to a generic statin. Helpfully, the HMO mailed docs a list of patients who were on the brand-name meds Lipitor (Pfizer) and Lescol (Novartis). The HMO spent $2 million on the three-month program--saving $5 million in drug costs in the process. Along the way, the American Medical Association advised docs that such payments could violate antikickback statutes. Now, a legislator in Massachusetts has introduced a bill to "keep [the practice] from spreading."

- read the Wall Street Journal article