The well-regarded industry trade journal Biotechnology Healthcare has an excellent article by Patrick Mullen on The Arrival of Average Sales Price. In it, Mr. Mullen interviews several top industry experts (yes, including me) on the rationale for and impact of Average Sales Price (ASP) and how health plans are following Medicare’s lead:

Health plans are beginning to adopt the average sales price method of paying oncologists and other specialists for office-administered drugs. ASP is more transparent and has a smaller markup than its much maligned predecessor, average wholesale price. The speed of ASP uptake will affect everyone who makes, sells, prescribes, and takes these medications.

Average Sales Price and Drug Reimbursement:

In 2005, as part of the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA), the way Medicare Part B reimbursed physicians and clinics for biologics and other physician-administered injectable drugs changed fundamentally. Medicare Part B, the nation’s largest payor of injectable drugs, started using Average Sales Price (ASP) to base payments for most drug products covered by Part B fee-for-service.

Using a new, tighter, and more accurate definition of ASP, drug manufacturers must report the Average Sales Price of each of their products. CMS, through its Part B claims processing contractors, reimburses physicians for covered drug products administered to Medicare benies at 106% of ASP, adjusted for volume.

Wide Ranging Impact of ASP in Marketplace:

Physician offices, particularly oncologists, have seen significant drops in Medicare revenue. While the impact on drug makers is mixed, overall the switch to ASP has tightened profit margins and required many manufacturers to revise projections.

Also, like the move of Medicaid to a new and publicly reported version of Average Manufacturer Price (AMP), the ASP reforms are another way drug prices are becoming transparent and flatter or less variable. The transformative effect on business practices and strategy should not be underestimated.

For Medicare Part B, the switch to ASP-based payment has saved billions of dollars and dramatically slowed the growth in Part B prescription drug spending. Beneficiaries have benefited as well, since they are paying the 20% Part B copay on lower prices. However, there is some evidence that some docs are switching drug therapies (which may or may not be clinically optimal for patients) or forcing patients to receive injections from other settings, such as outpatient hospitals. The behavioral effect on physician practices is still hard to discern beyond the realm of anecdote but is something worth monitoring closely, especially in light of low Medicare rates for professional fees.

To Learn More About ASP:

In addition to the article in Biotechnology Healthcare mentioned above, here are some MedPAC resources to understand ASP, Medicare spending on drugs and biologics, and Medicare reimbursement of physician services: