Defining and Managing High-Priced Cures: Healthcare Payers’ Opinions



Recent regulatory approvals of potentially curative but high-cost treatments have made these therapies a focus of health policy discussions. Cures present new challenges to healthcare payers because they have high upfront costs but have life-long health benefits. The objectives of this study are to understand how healthcare payers define and manage cures. We investigated payers’ views on key features of curative treatments and the affordability and value challenges they present.


We conducted semistructured interviews in 2016 with key informants in US payer organizations. Interviewees were directly involved in coverage determination for highly effective and curative therapies.


We contacted 24 individuals and 18 participated. When asked what aspects of cures were important for coverage determination, an equal percentage of respondents (61% each) mentioned clinical and economic factors. In defining a cure, half of respondents included an economic element such as no downstream costs associated with the disease. When asked about challenges, 72% of respondents mentioned uncertainty regarding long-term outcomes and 56% mentioned membership churn and competition.


Payers expressed a novel definition of a cure—which we call a “healthcare cost cure”—that captures both the clinical and economic consequences of treatment. This definition may be more pertinent in fragmentary financing systems that unevenly distribute cure costs and benefits across payers. Overall findings indicate that decision makers desire evidence to ensure that the long-term real-world consequences of covering cures match the expected benefits. Future policies need to balance upfront acquisition costs with downstream financial benefits.


Kai Yeung Kangho Suh Louis P. Garrison Josh J. Carlson

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