Billionaire Mark Cuban steps up assault on US medicine prices

Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, just got involved in the online pharmacy business, promising to “shield consumers from inflated drug prices.”

The online pharmacy launch comes a few weeks after Cuban set up a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) operation – the Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company (MCCPDC) – promising to cut out the middleman in the medicines supply chain so it can eliminate markups on generic drugs and pass savings on to its customers.

The plan is still being put into action, with the PBM not expected to start operating fully until next year, but the online pharmacy CostPlusDrugs.com is already online and ready to take orders, claiming some big discounts for more than 100 widely-prescribed drugs.

Eventually, the pharmacy – which is a registered wholesaler – will be integrated with the PBM so any company that uses it will have access to its lower prices, helping them save “millions of dollars with no changes to…benefits,” according to Cuban.

Among the savings highlighted by the company is a month’s supply of cancer drug imatinib, which has a retail price of £9,657 per month but can be supplied at just $47 by MCCPDC, versus $120 per month with a typical co-pay offset voucher.

Ulcerative colitis therapy mesalamine can be had from the online pharmacy for $32.40 per month, compared to a typical voucher cost of $102 or $940 at retail price, according to the company.

MCCPDC will be transparent about its operating costs and will pass on 100% of the rebates received from pharma manufacturers, according to Cuban. The pharmacy business will charge actual manufacturer prices, plus a 15% margin and pharmacists fee.

Pharma manufacturers blame PBMs for pocketing the discounts they negotiate with companies instead of passing them onto patients. Not so, say the PBMs, which claim high list prices, pay-for-delay deals to keep generics off the market, and evergreening tactics to extend patent lives are at the root of the problem.

Cuban is clearly in the former camp, saying in a statement to mark the launch of the online pharmacy that “the markup on potentially lifesaving drugs that people depend on is a problem that can’t be ignored.

“It is imperative that we take action and help expand access to these medications for those who need them most.”

He has previously said he was inspired to get involved in this area by the case of ‘pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli, who became notorious for raising the price of a generic drug used by people with HIV by 4,000% while he was chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals.

Shkreli was barred from working in the industry for life just last week, and ordered to repay $64.6m in profits made from the scheme.

Discussing the PBM plans with Forbes last year, Cuban said: “I put my name on it because I wanted to show that capitalism can be compassionate.”

The online pharmacy has been set up with the help of digital healthcare company Truepill, which is providing the infrastructure and online pharmacy platform for MCCPDC.

For now it will be require patients to pay for drugs out of their pockets, rather than via health insurance, as MCCPDC says it “refuses to pay spread prices to third-party PBMs in order to be allowed to process insurance claims.”

Cuban insists however that the prices charged by the online pharmacy are lower than most health insurance deductibles or co-pays.

A September Gallup poll showed that 18 million Americans were recently unable to pay for at least one prescription medication for their household due to ever-rising costs, and one in 10 have skipped doses to save money.

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