The Impact of Reference Pricing of Cardiovascular Drugs on Health Care Costs and Health Outcomes: Evidence from British Columbia -- Volume I: Summary
Objective: We estimate the effects of Reference Pricing, a drug cost control policy introduced by the BC Ministry of Health Pharmacare program in 1995, on its program expenditures for seniors, out of pocket costs paid by its senior beneficiaries, indicators of beneficiary health status and attendant Ministry of Health expenditures on physicians and hospitals services. Rationale: Reference pricing (RP) limits the reimbursement of a group of drugs with similar therapeutic effect but different active ingredients to a fixed "reference price". The setting of the reference price varies by jurisdiction but typically is based on an average of the lowest cost "reference standard" drugs within the group. Critics of RP contend that the partially subsidized and fully subsidized (reference standard) drugs are not therapeutically interchangeable, and therefore patient health will be compromised and use of other non-pharmacologic health services may increase as a result, thus partially or wholly offsetting any potential cost savings from the policy. Findings: The application of RP to 3 groups of cardiac drugs produced annualized savings to Pharmacare of about $7.7 million, or 3.6% of the $213.7 million that Pharmacare spent on drugs for seniors (not including dispensing fees) in 1997. The additional costs for physician consultations were modest, around $500,000 in the subsample of seniors we studied, from the introduction of the RP plans to March 1998, although the costs could be greater, perhaps up to twice this amount, if we accounted for all seniors exposed to the RP over the same period. We found no effects of RP on mortality, or premature admission to a longterm care facility. Seniors using the nitrate drugs for angina that were no longer fully subsidized when RP was introduced faced a higher probability in the short run of using medicines to deal with acute exacerbations of angina and in the longer run having bypass surgery or other revascularization procedures. No long run effects of morbidity were observed for the application of RP to two different types of anti-hypertensive medications, although there was a short run increase in the rate of revascularizations among those taking 1 type of anti-hypertensive: the ACE inhibitors. The results of these morbidity models should be seen as tentative, until these results can be replicated using alternative estimation strategies. Conclusions: The introduction of RP can indeed reduce Ministry of Health drug expenditures. The effects of RP on patient morbidity remain to be fully investigated before definitive policy recommendations can be offered.
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