Insurer recruits pharma reps to encourage doctors to push generic, lower-cost drugs

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An upstate New York insurer is hiring salespeople who used to work for big pharma to counterbalance the work of their former colleagues.

To fight the high cost of prescription drugs, an upstate New York insurer is giving big pharma a dose of its own medicine.

Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan (CDPHP) in Albany hires salespeople who used to work for big pharma to counterbalance the work of their former colleagues, according to an article in The New York Times. Mike Courtney, who has worked for both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, told the publication he sees his work advocating for generic pharmaceuticals as better aligned with the needs of physicians and patients. “Having come from Big Pharma, I do really feel my soul has been cleansed,” he says.

The skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs are an ongoing issue within the healthcare industry. A recent survey of health system leaders found it ranked among their biggest concerns. The issue intensified last year after public backlash to Mylan's decision to hike the price of EpiPen autoinjectors used to treat life-threatening allergic reactions by 400%.

RELATED: Drug prices still a major concern for healthcare leaders

To rein in costs, NYT reports that the insurer is taking the matter into its own hands and educating doctors about cost-effective medications that they can prescribe to patients. So far its efforts to repurpose drug representatives have lowered the insurer’s annual drug-cost increases to single-digit percentages, according to the article. Without the effort, Eileen Wood, the insurer’s vice president of pharmacy and health quality, told the publication that “we would certainly be well into double-digit” increases.

RELATED: How to handle patient requests for drugs they see in TV ads

Physicians are also tackling the issue of rising drug costs. Next week the American Medical Association House of Delegates plans to review a proposal to require that pharmaceutical ads include drug prices. If the resolution is approved, physicians are hoping it will make patients more aware of the costs associated with drugs promoted on television. Often patients pressure doctors to prescribe drugs that they’ve seen advertised.

Prescription rates of medications advertised directly to consumers have increased by 34%. In many cases, those prescriptions tend to be newer and more expensive, the AMA said.