What is wrong with orphan drug policies?

Value Health. 2012 Dec;15(8):1185-91. doi: 10.1016/j.jval.2012.09.004.


The effects of orphan drug policies raise serious concerns among payer organizations and lead to often-tragic disappointment for patients who are denied much anticipated drug reimbursements. We evaluate the effects of orphan drug policies on the basis of this concern for real accessibility to drugs. We highlight two unforeseen effects of orphan drug policies: 1) they provide unique business opportunities for manufacturers and 2) drugs approved through these policies are often inaccessible because of their high price. We identify six causes of this emergence of effects. The first four are the direct result of incentives included in orphan drug policies. The fifth cause is the "off-label" use of orphan drugs. These emergent effects have several implications: 1) they raise doubts about the equity of access to drugs, 2) they highlight the limitations of the cohort paradigm in medicine, and c) they force third-party payers to make drugs accessible even when the prices of drugs are believed to be disproportionate to the clinical effects obtained.

MeSH terms

  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Drug Industry / economics
  • Drug Industry / organization & administration*
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health, Reimbursement / economics
  • Insurance, Health, Reimbursement / statistics & numerical data
  • Off-Label Use / economics
  • Off-Label Use / statistics & numerical data
  • Orphan Drug Production / economics*
  • Orphan Drug Production / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Policy*
  • United States