Drug prices in the spotlight
Last month, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals Martin Shkreli unwittingly became the face of pharma greed when he raised the price of a medication his company recently acquired 5,455 percent overnight. Daraprim is used to fight toxoplasmosis, which is a serious threat to people with compromised immune systems. It’s not a new drug; the FDA approved it in 1953. And back then, it was sold for about $1 a tablet.
The most startling aspect of this story is that what Turing did isn’t unprecedented, and it’s not illegal. A new analysis shows that at least 19 other drugs have experienced stunning price hikes of between 300% and 1,200% in the past two years.
Unlike other industrialized countries, the United States lets drug makers set their own prices—which means they can charge as much as they want, or as much as the “market will bear.” Well, we’d argue that prices have become unbearable. We think it’s far past the time to reject the system that rewards pharma executives and punishes patients.
While we condemn his actions, Shkreli did us all a favor by putting exorbitant U.S. drug prices in the spotlight. Never have we seen so much media attention on this issue. And one by one, the Presidential candidates are starting to speak out against pharma’s predatory pricing.
Where do the Presidential candidates stand on drug prices?
When Martin Shkreli tried to contribute $2700 (the maximum donation an individual can make to a campaign) to Bernie Sanders’ campaign last week, Sanders passed the money on to a Washington, D.C. health clinic. “We are not keeping the money from this poster boy for drug company greed,” said campaign representative Michael Briggs.
In addition, Senator Sanders has introduced the Medicaid Generic Drug Price Fairness Act, which would require drug makers to pay a rebate to Medicaid if their generic drug prices rise faster than inflation and the Prescription Drug Affordability Act, which would:
- Allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices (as the VA and Medicaid do)
- Allow consumers to import cheaper drugs from Canada
- Ban pay-for-delay schemes that prevent cheaper generic drugs from entering the market
- Levy additional fines on pharma companies who settle fraud cases or are convicted
- Require companies to disclose information about their drug pricing
Hilary Clinton has been urging the FDA to expedite any pending reviews of generic versions of Daraprim since Turing publicly stated they would reduce the drug’s price but haven’t yet. She also is urging the FTC to look at Turing for price gouging and anti-competitive behavior.
Clinton has unveiled a proposal to lower drug costs by reducing pharma tax breaks and mandating certain levels of research spending. Specific provisions of her plan include:
- A $250 per month cap on out-of-pocket prescription drug spending for consumers
- Reducing the sales exclusivity period for biotech drugs to 7 years from the current 12 years.
- Prohibiting pharmaceutical companies from claiming advertising as a business expense.
- Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers
Mike Huckabee has previously voiced his support for prescription drug importation in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed. He said: “Some say that re-importing American-made prescription drugs from Canada is unsafe. But if the United States can put a man on the moon and map the human genome, I’m confident we can figure out a way to safely send pills from Montreal to Miami or Toronto to Tampa Bay. Canadians have strict safety standards, and we can make this work.”
Marco Rubio publicly spoke out about prescription drug prices last week, stating the reason drug companies are raising prices dramatically is simply because they can. “It’s because their argument is we can — we can raise prices on this, the market will bear it, people like this drug, they rely on it, their physician will write it. And so because we can, we do. And it’s just pure profiteering,” said Rubio.
What about pharma campaign contributions?
Among Republicans, Senator Ted Cruz has the most campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry so far: $96,045, followed by Senator Marco Rubio: $52,430; former Florida Governor Jeb Bush: $50,700; and Lindsey Graham: $19,200.
In the first six months of the campaign, Clinton has accepted $164,315 from drug companies. Sanders has even taken some money from individuals affiliated with drug companies: $8,346.
To be clear, the majority of these pharma donations to the candidates comes from individual donors who work in the pharmaceutical industry. Interest groups like pharma often give to the top candidates in both political parties, hedging their bets as to who will ultimately win. You can learn more about pharma contributions to the Presidential candidates and to Congress on the Center for Responsive Politics site.