This paper reviews the literature on reference pricing (RP) in pharmaceutical markets. The RP strategy for cost containment of expenditure on drugs is analyzed as part of the procurement mechanism. We review the existing literature and the state-of-the-art regarding RP by focusing on its economic effects. In particular, we consider: (1) the institutional context and problem-related factors which appear to underline the need to implement an RP strategy; i.e., its nature, characteristics and the sort of health care problems commonly addressed; (2) how RP operates in practice; that is, how third party-payers (the insurers/buyers) have established the RP systems existing on the international scene (i.e., information methods, monitoring procedures and legislative provisions); (3) the range of effects resulting from particular RP strategies (including effects on choice of appropriate pharmaceuticals, insurer savings, total drug expenditures, prices of referenced and non-referenced products and dynamic efficiency; (4) the market failures which an RP policy is supposed to address and the main advantages and drawbacks which emerge from an analysis of its effects. Results suggest that RP systems achieve better their postulated goals (1) if cost inflation in pharmaceuticals is due to high prices rather than to the excess of prescription rates, (2) when the larger is the existing difference in prices among equivalent drugs, and (3) more important is the actual market for generics.
Reference pricing, pharmaceutical expenditure, generic drugs, drug patents
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