Indication-specific pricing to make inroads in the U.S.

  • Author – Joshua P. Cohen
  • 4min read

Signs point to a greater role for indication-specific pricing in Medicare and Medicaid


Indication-specific pricing is a differential pricing method used by payers. Conceptually, it’s based on the idea that certain drugs with multiple indications have differential relative clinical benefit for each indication, or for each distinct patient subpopulation. The rationale behind indication-specific pricing is that the comparative clinical value of a drug can vary widely across indications, accordingly, so should the price if price and value are to align.

The figure below shows the difference between a uniform price – in this case, the price for indication A; green line – applied to all indications versus indication-based pricing.

Figure: Indication-specific pricing


Source: Institute for Clinical and Economic Review


The standard pricing model for pharmaceuticals constitutes a single price across all indications; in this instance, the price for indication A. It’s straightforward, as there is only one price. Besides, it’s the model stakeholders in the healthcare system have been accustomed to for decades. Moving to indication-specific pricing implies different prices for the four indications A, B, C, and D.

The most straightforward approach to indication-specific pricing by payers for a drug approved for, say, two different indications is to simply treat it as two different drugs. This would require two types of packaging, unique sets of National Drug Codes, for instance, for each of the packages, and for injectable drugs, two different Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) J codes.

Indication-specific pricing is appealing because it supports value-based healthcare by aligning price and value. But it’s not an easy task for both drug manufacturers and payers to set indication-specific prices, as this requires patient stratification, and ultimately anchoring of prices to certain measures of cost-effectiveness, such as the cost per Quality-Adjusted-Life-Year (QALY).

Thus far, the use of indication-specific pricing has been limited in the U.S. to several pilot programs. Specifically, the pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) Express Scripts employs indication-specific pricing in number of different classes of cancer drugs, and the PBM CVS Caremark does this for several auto-immune diseases.

According to the PBMs, indication-specific pricing can provide a justification for higher prices for secondary indications that provide greater clinical benefits. In the context of value being assessed, this may help address payer resistance to expanding coverage to include supplemental indications. Partnering with Lyfegen may be the solution for manufacturers and payers alike, as its platform can put users on the right track towards successful implementation of indication-specific pricing arrangements. The Lyfegen platform identifies and operationalizes value-based indication-specific models in a cost-effective manner.

Indication specific pricing could alter prices for the biologic Avastin (bevacizumab), for example, when used for cervical cancer and colon cancer, respectively, depending on the willingness to pay threshold, which in turn may be based on different cost per QALY estimates.

Also, there are differences in the comparative value of the cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) when used in different indications (metastatic versus adjuvant HER-2 positive breast cancer). A possible solution to this problem is for Herceptin to have two prices, one for its metastatic indication, and another for its adjuvant indication.

When Novartis won its groundbreaking CAR-T approval, Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) in 2018, both the drugmaker and U.S. policymakers at Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) touted performance-based and indication-specific pricing as ways to help finance the $475,000 therapy. Unfortunately, the CMS backed away from a plan to implement a value-based contract for Kymriah. This decision may be revisited, as the pipeline is filled with cell and gene therapies that have large upfront costs for CMS, which must somehow be managed.

Moreover, given the many value-based experiments state Medicaid agencies are currently involved in – from value-based formularies to subscription models for the purchase of hepatitis C medications – this could spur more use of indication-specific pricing in Medicaid.

New “best price” rules in Medicaid went into effect July 1, 2022. The reason for changes in best price rules is to induce more use of value-based contract arrangements, including indication-specific pricing. Newly established protocols allow for the reporting of multiple best prices.

Specifically, to facilitate the broad adoption of these types of contracts, the novel best price rule allows drug manufacturers to report a range of best prices to the extent they may be determined by varying discounts under value-based pricing arrangements, along with the regular best price under any non-value-based pricing arrangements.

Here, value-based pricing arrangements are outcomes-based contracts which vary rebates based on patient outcomes. This can be stratified by indication. In this context, lower discounts may be offered for patients with better-than-expected outcomes in certain indications, and higher discounts for poorer outcomes and lower-than-expected clinical effectiveness of a drug in one or more indications.

About the author

Cohen is a health economist with more than 25 years of experience analyzing, publishing, and presenting on drug and diagnostic pricing and reimbursement, as well as healthcare policy reform initiatives. For 21 years, Cohen was an academic at Tufts University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Amsterdam. Currently, and for the past five years, Cohen is an independent healthcare analyst and consultant on a variety of research, teaching, speaking, editing, and writing projects.



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