Nobody expected this CMS inquisition. They didn't wait very long to follow through on the implied visibility to pharmacies’ prescription economics, as I predicted in Transparency is Here! CMS Exposes Pharmacy Prescription Profit Margins.
Below, I summarize the new gross profit and margin computations based on NADAC and NARP data, along with adjusted numbers that account for the acquisition cost survey’s flaws. Highlights:
- A pharmacy’s average gross profit per prescription is $12.50.
- Gross margins on brand prescriptions average about 10%, while gross margins on generic prescriptions average about 50%.
- Pharmacies continue to earn more from Medicaid than other third-party payers.
- Cash pay prescriptions, most of which are generic, yield higher margins than third party prescriptions.
- The response rate for the acquisition cost survey is surprisingly high, especially among independent pharmacy owners.
Briefly, Myers & Stauffer are the contractors collecting the following two different data sets for CMS.
National Average Retail Prices (NARP)
- Provides average prescription revenues, composed of (1) the amounts paid for drug ingredient costs, (2) customer copayments or coinsurance, and (3) dispensing fees.
- Publishes average revenues for 3,000 to 3,500 of the most commonly dispensed brand and generic outpatient drugs, listed by 11-digit National Drug Code (NDC)
- Based on actual market transaction data gathered from data suppliers, i.e., it is NOT a survey. The NARP is computed from 50 million nationwide retail pharmacy claims, or about 15% of the U.S. market.
- The data file is published monthly.
- Provides average pharmacy acquisition cost at invoice cost.
- Publishes acquisition cost for approximately 20,000 brand and generic outpatient drugs, listed by 11-digit NDC
- Based on a voluntary, monthly mail survey of chain and independent pharmacies.
- The survey EXCLUDES off-invoice discounts, rebates, or price concessions received by pharmacies. Thus, the data do NOT reflect net actual acquisition costs, hence my adjustments below.
- The data file is updated monthly based on the survey, and then updated weekly throughout the month based on WAC pricing changes or inbound inquires to a CMS help desk.
TIGHTEN THE RACK
I view the NADAC data to be much less reliable than the NARP data.
The NADAC methodology calls for a random monthly sample of approximately 2,000-2,500 chain and independent pharmacies, or about 3-4% of total locations. Last week, M&S disclosed that they are receiving 600-800 surveys per month, which is about a 30% response rate. This response rate implies that the NADAC data are based on 1% of pharmacy locations. You can read more of my NADAC critique in Government Boldly Launches a Deeply-Flawed Survey of Pharmacy Acquisition Costs—the top-rated Drug Channels article, according to Star Trek fans.
In the tables below, I adjust the NADAC data to account for estimated off-invoice discounts, rebates, or price concessions received by pharmacies. Such amounts could include volume-based rebates from wholesalers, buying groups, or manufacturers. I estimate these discounts to average about 4% for brand drugs and 10% for generic drugs. Please email me if you have better information.
Note that these discounts are in addition to a pharmacy’s negotiated invoice discounts, which are generally small for single-source brand-name drugs. According to the OIG data cited in Pharmacy Invoices Show Flaws in Drug Pricing Benchmarks, a pharmacy’s invoice cost for single-source drugs are 99.5% of Wholesale Acquisition Cost (WAC).
Unlike the sample computations that I show in Transparency is Here! CMS Exposes Pharmacy Prescription Profit Margins, M&S has access to the raw data and can compute appropriate overall margins.
THE COMFY CHAIR
As a reminder, gross profit equals the revenues received by a pharmacy minus the costs of products (net of discounts and returns) bought from a manufacturer or a wholesaler. For a single prescription, these revenues include the amounts paid for drug ingredient costs, customer copayments or coinsurance, and dispensing fees. Gross margin expresses gross profit as a percentage of revenues. Gross profit measures the portion of a pharmacy's revenues available for the operating expenses and operating profit of a pharmacy. Myers and Stauffer compute Gross Profit as the difference between NARP and NADAC.
Based on the overall averages presented on page 67 of the M&S deck, I compute the overall generic dispensing rate (GDR) to be 77.4%. Taking into account the brand/generic mix, the overall average gross profit and margin figures are:
- Unadjusted: $9.88 (15.9%)
- Adjusted: $12.49 (20.1%)
These averages vary dramatically by payer and prescription type. The exhibit below shows the per-prescription gross profit and margin for brand-name and generic prescriptions. I include both the raw M&S figures as well as my adjusted estimates.
- Pharmacy profit margins look reasonable. On average, pharmacies seem to be earning adequate margins to cover their costs of dispensing. Just sayin’.
- On average, generic prescriptions are less profitable. The data seem to be at odds with conventional wisdom on the relative profitability of brand vs. generic prescriptions. However, the data are consistent with the idea that *newer* generics are more profitable, while more-common older generics are less profitable. In Pharmacy Profits from Authorized Generics, I provide data showing that pharmacy gross profits per prescription almost double during the 180-day exclusivity period.
- Medicaid remains more generous. This fact has been proven in multiple studies over the years. Example: How to Stop Medicaid from Overpaying for Drugs. Once again, this brand-new data set confirms this well-known result.
- The uninsured are more profitable, but… Pharmacies earn much higher profit margins from uninsured and underinsured individuals, a.k.a. “cash-paying customers.” There is a strong mix effect, given that GDR was 91.6% for cash-pay prescriptions vs. the overall average of 77.4%. The data also show that the average prescription price is lower for cash pay prescriptions, so the products being dispensed are also different.
This video shows Myers and Stauffer agents collecting pharmacy acquisition cost data.
P.S. Check out Hank Stern’s excellent round-up of health care analysis in
Health Wonk Review: Festival of Lights edition.