The Pricing Dilemma: Why Generic Drugs Are Costing Insurers Thousands

Ben H.

Hatched by Ben H.

Apr 01, 2024

4 min read


The Pricing Dilemma: Why Generic Drugs Are Costing Insurers Thousands


In a surprising turn of events, it has come to light that generic drugs, which are meant to be affordable alternatives to brand-name medications, are being charged at exorbitant prices by insurers. A recent Wall Street Journal analysis revealed that drugs such as Gleevec, which went generic in 2016 and can be purchased for as little as $55 a month, are being charged over 100 times that amount by insurance plans. This pricing disparity is not only eroding the benefits of generics but also burdening patients, particularly those on fixed incomes and insured by Medicare, with hefty deductible payments and out-of-pocket costs.

The Role of Insurers and Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs):

To understand why insurers are charging such exorbitant prices for generic drugs, it is crucial to examine the role of insurers and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) in the drug pricing ecosystem. Insurers like Cigna, CVS Health, and UnitedHealth Group have the authority to set drug prices with pharmacies, which they sometimes own. This arrangement gives them the power to manipulate prices and charge significantly higher amounts for drugs like Gleevec. The incentives for PBMs and specialty pharmacies to keep prices high are clear, as a higher price translates to higher profits for these entities.

The Impact on Patients:

The inflated prices set by insurers and PBMs are not only detrimental to patients' financial well-being but also undermine the efforts to control healthcare spending in the United States. For patients relying on generic drugs to manage their conditions, the high costs imposed by insurers can be crippling. Many of these patients are insured by Medicare, which means they are already on fixed incomes and have limited resources to allocate towards healthcare expenses. The burden of considerable deductible payments and out-of-pocket costs forces patients to choose between their health and financial stability.

Internal Dynamics at McKinsey:

Meanwhile, in the corporate world, McKinsey, the renowned management consulting firm, is grappling with internal dynamics that have raised concerns about its decision-making processes. As the firm has grown exponentially in terms of headcount and revenue, the traditional partnership model has faced criticism for concentrating decision-making power in too few hands. This has led to accusations that McKinsey is operating more like a corporation, neglecting its core values, and compromising on its mission to help clients make substantial improvements in their performance.

Balancing Growth and Values:

The growth experienced by McKinsey has necessitated a shift in decision-making arrangements within the firm. However, some insiders argue that the focus on growth has overshadowed the importance of upholding the firm's values. There is a delicate balance between financial success and maintaining a collegial and non-hierarchical environment. The tension between these two aspects becomes increasingly challenging as the firm expands. McKinsey's internal debates often revolve around reconciling growth ambitions with the preservation of its core principles.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Advocate for Transparency: As consumers, it is essential to demand transparency from insurers and PBMs regarding the pricing of generic drugs. By pushing for greater transparency, we can shed light on the practices that contribute to inflated prices and hold these entities accountable.
  • 2. Explore Alternative Options: Patients should explore alternative options for purchasing generic drugs, such as online pharmacies or international suppliers. The Cuban pharmacy mentioned in the article, which offers generic drugs at a flat profit markup, provides an example of how affordable options can be made accessible.
  • 3. Engage in Advocacy and Policy Reform: To address the issue of inflated drug prices, it is crucial to engage in advocacy efforts and push for policy reforms. By raising awareness about this issue and advocating for change, we can work towards creating a fairer and more affordable healthcare system.


The revelation that insurers are charging thousands of dollars for generic drugs highlights the pressing need for reform in the healthcare industry. Patients should not be burdened with exorbitant costs for essential medications, especially when affordable alternatives exist. By demanding transparency, exploring alternative options, and engaging in advocacy and policy reform, we can contribute to creating a more equitable healthcare system that prioritizes the well-being of patients over profit margins.

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