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.

More from Pharmacy Times and Ballotpedia on where the candidates stand on health care issues.

 

 

2 Comments On “Drug prices in the spotlight”

  1. Have
    any of you given any thought to the “complete process” of a drug?
    From being developed in a lab to being prescribed to you? It is ALL done by BIG
    PHARMA! They test it themselves, and then get it easily passed through the FDA.
    (A lot that are later recalled for causing strokes & heart attacks). Then
    they are manufactured by the BIG PHARMA. Then they are taken by salesmen and
    women to every Doctor’s office on the planet! The Doctors are informed, by the
    SALES PEOPLE, how to prescribe! How much, how often and for what to prescribe.
    They also TELL the doctors what a person’s blood panel numbers should be for
    prescribing, often lowering the actual numbers thereby gaining
    “customers”! And who is not on something for high cholesterol today?
    New studies have shown that cholesterol does NOT clog arteries! The correlation
    of heart attacks between those with high cholesterol and those with
    “normal” cholesterol blood counts are nearly identical! A mere 3%
    difference.

    (See Websites:
    http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/cholesterol-and-heart-disease-a-phony-issue/

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/cholesterol-confusion-and-why-we-should-rethink-our-approach-to-statin-therapy/)

    Also, statin drugs are DANGEROUS and cause more harm than good,
    especially if stopping them abruptly. They can CAUSE type 2 diabetes! You are
    more likely to be harmed by them than by “high” cholesterol.
    And think that the doctors are just following the BIG PHARMA’S orders
    basically! Now that nearly everyone in America is on them, they are raising
    prices. Not only that but now that Obamacare is here, the amount of paperwork
    needing to be done by the doctors is immense and often doesn’t please the
    insurance companies who say you didn’t click in the right box or code it right
    and make the doctors do it again, while the patient waits and hopes the rapid
    withdrawal doesn’t kill them. I just had a medication delayed, not by the
    doctor, or even the insurance company, but because it was “ON back order
    from the MANUFACTURER! THE BIG PHARMA! And you are all RIGHT! It IS all about
    $$$$$$$$! Period! In my opinion it is CRIMINAL!

  2. P.S. I can get a 3 month supply of one of my meds. from Canada for the same price as a 1 month supply here in the uSA

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