Mark Cuban recently launched his online pharmacy, Cost Plus Drugs Co., aimed at Big Pharma and its unaffordable drug prices.

The goal of Cost Plus Drugs is to lower prescription drug costs for consumers and health plans by eliminating supply chain middlemen. Through direct negotiations with drug makers and pharmacies, the drug company can offer discounted prices for more than 100 medicines, resulting in savings for employer health plans, private insurers and government insurance plans.

As a physician who has seen many patients in emergency rooms unable to afford their medicines, I say “Hallelujah!” But I wonder if the anticipated savings for employers and private insurers will result in actual savings for patients.

The Costplusdrugs.com website explains why its prices are different from other pharmacies using a pricing example for the cancer drug Imatinib. The retail price for Imatinib is over $9,000 a month, but the same drug would only be $47 a month for a Cost Plus Drugs customer. Who wouldn’t do cartwheels for that amount of savings?

However, Cost Plus Drugs takes payments only in cash. Almost one-quarter of Americans take more than three medicines daily, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report — that’s approximately 1 out of 4 of your friends and family who take multiple medicines every day.

One issue highlighted by the pandemic (and a daily reality for many Americans), is that cash is not always available in many households for necessities. At $47 a month, the cost, although a vast savings, equals more than $500 a year.

American wage increases have not kept up with the rate of inflation. Minimum wage in Texas is $7.25 an hour, equaling $290 dollars a week. After paying for housing, transportation, child care and other daily needs, little cash is left to spend on medications.

To the credit of Cost Plus Drugs, many medicines on their website are listed below $47 dollars a month. However, cash-only drug payments that rely on out-of-pocket spending from workers will still be a heavy lift for many Americans.

And yet, I have faith in Mark Cuban and his chief executive, Alex Oshmyansky. Their team will surely continue to look out for their customers. With the help of their delivery partner Truepill, they have already tackled some of the largest hurdles of getting affordable medicines to the people that need them.

Maybe we can look forward to disruptive innovations such as employer-based drug cost assistance programs similar to personal health care spending accounts, guaranteed lower premiums or lower deductible plans from insurers. And, if we dare to dream, we might see employer savings directly translating to higher wages for workers.

Cuban’s company is even building a facility in Dallas to make medications that will bring in an estimated 80 jobs to the area, giving a boost to the local economy.

Cuban’s online pharmacy is now in the driver’s seat and has taken a tremendous step toward transforming the confusing system of drug pricing. Let’s hope the company can ensure that the promised savings trickle down to their patient customers.

 

Dr. Tamara Green is an independent physician government contractor and consultant and emergency medicine physician. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.