German court extends legal redress options for pharma companies in the drug pricing and reimbursement system

On 10 September 2020, the German Federal Social Court (Bundessozialgericht – “BSG”) has issued an important decision with significant impact on the drug pricing and reimbursement system. It ruled that a pharmaceutical company can file a direct legal action against the early benefit assessment in the so-called AMNOG process. This was not possible so far. The decision therefore significantly broadens the legal redress possibilities of pharmaceutical companies under the German drug pricing and reimbursement regulation.

For drugs with new active substances, the pricing and reimbursement process has three steps: First, an early benefit assessment is performed by the Joint Federal Committee (Gemeinsamer Bundesausschuss – “GBA”) to assess the drug’s “additional benefit” against the relevant comparator therapy. Second, the drug company negotiates the reimbursement price with the health insurances association based on the outcome of the early benefit assessment. If they cannot agree to a price, the third step is an arbitration process. The applicable Social Code V (“SGB V”) allowed legal actions against the arbitration decision and excluded isolated legal actions against the early benefit assessment (Section 35a (8) SGB V).

In this lawsuit, a drug company had launched a prescription drug with an off-patent generic active substance for a skin disease based on own clinical trials. The GBA took the view that the drug has a new active substance and must undergo the early benefit assessment and the AMNOG process. However, the drug company took the position that the product does not have a new active substance and did not submit a product dossier for the early benefit assessment. The GBA nevertheless conducted the early benefit assessment and came to a negative benefit assessment decision. The company filed an action against this decision but during the lawsuit it agreed on a reimbursed price with the health insurance association in order to prevent disadvantages and enable the reimbursement of the drug.

The first instance court (Landessozialgericht Berlin Brandenburg – “LSG”) rejected the action of the company as “inadmissible” and referred to the above mentioned Section 35a (8) SGB V. In contrast, the BSG ruled that despite Section 35 (8) SGB V, a drug company must be allowed to file a legal action against the early benefit assessment even if the company has subsequently agreed to a reimbursement price. Therefore, the BSG annulled the earlier decision of the LSG and referred the matter back to the lower court. The LSG will now have to decide whether the drug indeed had a new active substance and was rightly subjected to the AMNOG process.

The BSG’s full decision has not been published yet but in its press release about the decision, the BSG has summarized its view by referring to the significant legal effects of this benefit assessment to the drug company and finds that Section 35a (8) SGB V does not generally exclude all legal redress options against early benefit assessments in each scenario.

For this particular case, the BSG also noted that it appears possible that the active substance of the drug is not a new active substance. Against this background, the BSG found that blocking all legal redress against an early benefit assessment in all scenarios would violate the constitutional rights of the pharmaceutical companies. In contrast to earlier decisions of German courts in other pricing and reimbursement disputes, this decision appears to put a lot more emphasis on the constitutional rights of the pharmaceutical companies.

Before this decision, a pharmaceutical company could not seek separate legal redress against the early benefit assessment even if it was already contested whether the drug has a new active substance or not. The GBA had the power to just make that assumption and to subject a medicine to the AMNOG process without facing the risk of being exposed to direct legal action. The system required the drug company to wait until the entire AMNOG process of benefit assessment, price negotiation and arbitration is completed before it could file a lawsuit against the arbitration decision. That caused the companies to lose significant time before it could seek legal redress. Further, a drug company had to tolerate that throughout this time and until it obtained a court decision, the negative benefit assessment was made public and harmed its product plus the product was only reimbursed at a low price level because of the negative benefit assessment.

Overall, this new judgment of the BSG clearly strengthens the position of pharmaceutical companies in the AMNOG process and offers a new opportunity to legally challenge the early benefit assessment. The court has particularly stressed the constitutional rights of the pharmaceutical company. It will be interesting how this particular case will continue and which claims the company could make if the lawsuit finds that the drug was unlawfully subjected to the AMNOG process. Further, and beyond this particular case, it appears possible that the principles and arguments of this BSG decision can also be invoked in other disputes in the German drug pricing and reimbursement system.

This BSG decision will have a significant impact to the German drug pricing and reimbursement system and the respective judicature of social courts. Pharmaceutical companies should carefully analyze the full reasoning of the BSG as soon as the complete judgment is available.

The Covington team in Frankfurt, Germany, will continue following and discussing these and other developments on the “Inside EU Life Sciences” blog.

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