A recently published study in Health Affairs shines a light on a peculiar quirk of the Medicare Part D benefit structure: For some high-priced specialty medications, seniors might pay less out-of-pocket for brand-name drugs than their generic counterparts.
The study found that, assuming a 61% discount between brand-name and generic drugs, Part D beneficiaries with prescriptions costing between $22,000 and $80,000 per year would have lower out-of-pocket spending if they use brand-name drugs over a generic, AIS Health reported.
"That's really frustrating for consumers because you may actually not be in a plan that allows you to switch to a branded drug" if it's cheaper than the generic, says Stacie Dusetzina, one of the study authors and an associate professor at Vanderbilt University.
"The other practical thing is, that would a terrible thing for us to be trying to get people to do because generally we want to encourage people to use generic drugs because they’re the best deal for us as a society," she says.
Sharon Jhawar, chief pharmacy officer at California-based SCAN Health Plan, points out that because most generic prescriptions filled by seniors are not pricey specialty ones, "this kind of nuance that’s happening [with the Part D benefit] is kind of narrow and limited in scope."
"But we know that the specialty pipeline is robust," and so taking a look at the problem and figuring out solutions "does make sense," she says.
However, well-intentioned policy changes don't always turn out as planned, notes Kelly Brantley, a managing director at Avalere.
"Part D is so complicated, it's hard to know what sort of fixes drive other quote-unquote problems," she says.