ICER: Hero or Villain in the Story of Value-Based Drug Pricing?

Lyfegen Editorial Team


This influential player in the U.S. pharmaceutical sector is changing the dynamics of price negotiations between payers and drug manufacturers. But is ICER helping bring healthcare costs down or contributing to rising drug prices?


Who is ICER?

Over the last decade, a small, Boston-based independent, nonprofit research organization has become a powerful influence over the formulary exclusion decisions and drug prices commercial and government payers will pay. Founded in 2006, The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) was relatively unknown before 2014. But after gaining national recognition for an assessment about the cost-effectiveness of a Hepatitis C therapy regime, ICER quickly became a trusted source of data and pharmaceutical economics research.

ICER’s assessments are cited in national policy debate and in pharmaceutical price negotiations between insurers and drug manufacturers. According to ICER, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, some state Medicaid agencies and over 75% of private insurers, pharmacy benefit managers, and self-insuring organizations now use ICER’s drug pricing assessments and resources in their policy decision making.

What does ICER do?

ICER conducts clinical and economic assessments of drug treatments to calculate what it considers a drug’s fair market price. They consider a drug’s value and effectiveness for treating the illness for which it was designed, followed by a budget impact analysis to estimate how much the national health system could save with its suggested cost-effective pricing. Using this data, ICER analyses calculate a suggested drug price for payers where cost-effectiveness aligns with the value of the increased benefit to the patient’s health. ICER says it seeks feedback from all stakeholders—manufacturers, clinicians, payers, patients and families.

How is ICER affecting national drug prices?

A leading pharmaceutical economics expert, Dr. Adam J. Fein of Drug Channels Institute, reports that pharmaceutical list prices rose by up to 15% from 2010 to 2015. During the next five years, up to mid-2020—as ICER rose to national prominence—list price growth dropped to 4.2%.

In 2018, ICON, a leading healthcare industry consultant, conducted a survey about the influence of ICER’s work on drug pricing and national healthcare costs. The ICON survey revealed that ICER’s cost effectiveness metrics and price recommendations are affecting contract negotiations between drug manufacturers and payers and driving drug prices down.

Most payers are no longer willing to accept whatever price drug manufacturers decide to charge. Over a third of the payers in the ICON survey stated it was likely, or extremely likely, that they would ask for a rebate from the drug manufacturer to reduce the cost of a drug to match ICER’s suggested price. In response, manufacturers will increase their drug list price, then offset part of the price increase with larger rebates to payers—this is known as the gross-to-net bubble.

How is ICER affecting access to expensive drug treatments?

Out of the 90 participants ICON surveyed during a pharmaceutical industry webinar, 65% believed ICER had a moderate to significant impact on formulary decisions; ICON’s research also showed that payers who use ICER’s cost-effective pricing were more likely to use strict prior authorization requirements for some drugs to encourage clinicians and patients to use the most cost-effective drug treatments. Critics point to this as one of the harmful consequences of ICER’s work.

What do critics of ICER say?

Some patient advocate groups—with the support of pharmaceutical manufacturers—are concerned that by encouraging payers to exclude less cost-effective but still clinically effective treatments in their formularies, ICER is promoting payer discrimination against some patients who need expensive specialty medications, such as the elderly, people with disabilities, and those living with rare diseases.

Critics such as The Alliance for Aging Research point to data that show ICER’s impact on payer demands for higher rebates are causing increasing out-of-pocket costs for seniors using Part D Medicare benefits. Manufacturers raise their list prices, then meet payer demands for ICER’s suggested drug pricing using the gross-to-net bubble rebates. However, some payers still calculate the co-insurance percentages that patients pay for their prescriptions based on the manufacturer’s full, undiscounted list price.

Lyfegen can help implement value-based drug pricing agreements

Despite the debate about whether ICER is a help or a hinderance in the work of healthcare cost containment and better patient access, ICER’s influence will probably continue to grow as value-based contracts and risk-sharing agreements become more common. Lyfegen’s value-based contracting platform operationalizes and manages these complex drug pricing payment arrangements by seamlessly capturing and analyzing data.

Lyfegen’s software can help your organization implement any value-based contract, covering multiple therapeutic areas, with public or private payers. Contact us to learn more about our platform and to book a demo.



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