© 2024 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Two Bayer drugs are headed to Mark Cuban's online pharmacy


Two more brand-name drugs are headed to entrepreneur Mark Cuban's industry-disrupting online pharmacy. One is an oral contraceptive, and the other is a menopause drug, both made by Bayer. NPR pharmaceuticals correspondent Sydney Lupkin reports on what that means.

SYDNEY LUPKIN, BYLINE: Bayer is dipping its toe into the world of Mark Cuban's online pharmacy, Cost Plus Drugs. The website offers drugs at steep discounts without middlemen called pharmacy benefit managers. Yaz birth control pills and Climara for menopause will now both be available for a fraction of their list prices, including Cost Plus' standard 15% markup and shipping. To Sebastian Guth, president of U.S. pharmaceuticals at Bayer, it will be an experiment.

SEBASTIAN GUTH: I really look at this as a test and learn. It's a first initial step. We will learn and see what the results of this partnership are and may then decide to expand it further.

LUPKIN: The drugs are both off patent and face generic competition. But Guth says women often pay for both these drugs out of pockets, skipping their insurance, and they often prefer to use the brand name over available generics. The Cost Plus partnership, he says, will expand access to patients. But according to KFF's Laurie Sobel, the benefit to patients isn't clear. Under the Affordable Care Act, birth control like Yaz is covered without any co-pay, though some plans may only cover the generic. But not everyone knows that. Here's Sobel.

LAURIE SOBEL: We know from our survey from 2022 that about 40% of females are not aware of that. So there's a knowledge gap of who knows if they use their insurance, it would be covered.

LUPKIN: Meanwhile, Yaz in particular is in the top 10 oral contraceptives people paid for despite the Affordable Care Act rules. Here's Sobel again.

SOBEL: And we also know that it's been highly marketed. And so Yaz was the most advertised brand.

LUPKIN: So even though Yaz will have a $117 price tag at Cost Plus for a three-month supply compared to its more than $500 list price, it would still be a lot cheaper to just get the generic through insurance without a co-pay. Climara is also much cheaper at Cost Plus - $53 instead of $76. Those higher list prices don't take into account what drug companies actually get paid for drugs when they're purchased through insurance under normal circumstances. Middlemen called pharmacy benefit managers get a cut, too, and the drug companies are left with a net price. Guth declined to share Yaz or Climara's net prices, but drug industry veteran Richard Evans says the company probably isn't making less money through Cost Plus than regular insurance, and the visibility for Mark Cuban's pharmacy could increase sales. Sebastian Guth at Bayer says he's a big believer in pricing transparency, which Cost Plus is trying to bring more of to the United States. It will probably take a few months to see how the experiment works out. Sidney Lupkin, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sydney Lupkin is the pharmaceuticals correspondent for NPR.