Consumers have grown accustomed to being told by insurers — and middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers — that they must give up their brand-name drugs in favor of cheaper generics. But some are finding the opposite is true, as pharmaceutical companies squeeze the last profits from products that are facing cheaper generic competition.
Out of public view, corporations are cutting deals that give consumers little choice but to buy brand-name drugs — and sometimes pay more at the pharmacy counter than they would for generics.
The practice is not easy to track, and has been going on sporadically for years. But several clues suggest it is becoming more common.
In recent months, some insurers and benefit managers have insisted that patients forgo generics and buy brand-name drugs such as the cholesterol treatment Zetia, the stroke-prevention drug Aggrenox and the pain-relieving gel Voltaren, along with about a dozen others, according to memos and prescription drug claims that pharmacies shared with ProPublica and The New York Times. At the same time, consumers are sounding off on social media.
Now it appears the practice is spreading to biosimilars, the competitors for expensive, complex biologic drugs that are beginning to arrive on the market.
Consumers have become increasingly angry over what they pay for drugs, and that outrage has caught the attention of lawmakers from both parties. Democrats have identified lowering drug prices as a pillar of their economic agenda, and President Trump has raised the issue repeatedly. But for now, solutions have proved elusive.
The continued success of the brand-name drug Adderall XR, long after generic competitors arrived on the market, is a case in point.
Dr. Lawrence Diller, a behavioral pediatrician in Walnut Creek, Calif., said he began noticing “very odd things” going on with Adderall XR and other attention-deficit drugs about two years ago. He began receiving faxes from pharmacies telling him that he had to specify that patients required brand-name versions of the drugs.
He had been practicing for 40 years, but until then had…