My previous commentary followed last Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview of two oncologists who spoke out against the pricing of cancer drugs. What these two doctors exposed was the blatant profiteering companies like Sanofi and Novartis are getting away with. Now comes this……
In response to recent reports that the cost of some generic drugs has been unexpectedly rising at a rapid clip, two members of Congress have launched an investigation and asked 14 generic drug makers to provide data about what the lawmakers called the “escalating prices they have been charging” for generic medicines.
A recent analysis, for instance, found that half of all generics sold through retailers became more expensive over the past 12 months. And prices paid by pharmacies more than doubled for one out of 11 generics. In some cases, price hikes exceeded 1,000% and even topped 17,000%.
The reports add to growing concern about the increasing cost of prescription drugs, which has largely been confined to brand-name drugs – such as expensive new treatments for cancer, hepatitis C and certain rare diseases. Outrage erupted earlier this year, for instance, over the Sovaldi treatment for hepatitis C that is sold by Gilead Sciences at a costof $1,000 per pill, or $84,000 for a 12-week regimen.
I asked Dr Bob Kramer, pediatrician and child lung specialist for many years about Albuterol Sulfate, which is used to treat asthma and other lung conditions. The average cost for a bottle of 100 pills was $11 last October, but rose to $434 by this past April. He was shocked. And the antibiotic doxycycline hyclate cost $20 last October for a bottle of 500 tablets, but by April of this year, the price was $1,849, according to their pricing chart. Another example is the per-unit price for a 500 mg capsule of tetracycline, a common antibiotic. It increased from $0.05 cents to $8.59, a more than 17,000 % increase
“It is unacceptable that Americans pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs,” says U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) in a statement. “Generic drugs were meant to help make medications affordable for the millions of Americans who rely on prescriptions to manage their health needs. We’ve got to get to the bottom of these enormous price increases.”
At the bottom of this is a Congress which has prevented the government from negotiating Medicare drug prices. In essence, the current law says that Medicare must pay whatever a drug manufacturer charges, plus a percent cushion. Which of course ripples throughout the pharmaceutical supply chain (i.e., private insurance).
And U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, (D-Md.) says “in some cases, these outrageous price hikes are preventing patients from getting the drugs they need.” He cited a report by IMS Institute for Health Informatics showing generics account for 29% of prescription drug spending and 86% of drugs dispensed in the U.S.
Consider the ripple effect of massive price hikes for generic drugs. Faced with the rising costs of generic prescription drugs, health insurers increasingly are turning to tiers and preferred lists on their formularies to keep costs down. Those strategies previously were used only for brand-name and specialty drugs. Experts say those approaches will increase out-of-pocket costs for patients and could make them less likely to adhere to drug regimens. If generic medications become unaffordable, what might be an expected outcome if a patient stops taking or reduces the recommended dosage of a prescribed medication? Could a patient denied albuterol because of cost end up in the ER due to an asthmatic crisis?
Can there be any doubt that the financial carnage being imposed on this country by the various health care sectors has reached insane proportions? Lives are subject to the whims of profiteers in all segments.