This perspective, written by David Whitrap, was first shared in our Weekly View e-newsletter which summarizes the week’s most significant drug pricing news. To subscribe, click here. 

Setting aside for the moment this week’s frightening events in and around the US Capitol Building, we hope you enjoyed some much-needed rest and relaxation during the holidays. Many have been taking the time to reflect on how 2020 might shape the future, and ICER is no different. Sarah Emond, our Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, recently penned an article for the California Health Care Foundation exploring the question, “Has COVID-19 Changed Prescription Drug Pricing Forever?” Some takeaways:

  • At least in certain instances, drugmakers can quickly develop treatments and vaccines. The fact (for which we are grateful) that COVID-19 medicines and vaccines were available within months, and not years, may begin to challenge the oft-repeated argument that high prices are necessary to recoup decades’ worth of expensive research and development.
  • Federal government investment can spur innovation, and companies will respond with rapid development timelines, as seen in Operation Warp Speed.
  • Federal and state governments can ensure that vaccines are provided at no cost to patients.
  • The amount of data required for drug and vaccine approvals can be reduced. Emergency use authorizations revealed a greater willingness among regulators to move forward with less robust data, leaving many unanswered questions around long-term safety and comparative effectiveness. 

Sarah also described aspects of US health care that haven’t really changed at all during the pandemic. For example, the federal government did not choose to require price concessions in exchange for funding, or even require these drugmakers to make justifications for the prices they set. And perhaps most notably, instances of unfair drug pricing and unfair patient access are under at least as much public scrutiny now as they have ever been.