“We must end the unlimited ability of pharmaceutical companies to dictate prices at the expense of patients.”
By Jake Johnson / Common Dreams
The U.S. pharmaceutical industry has wielded its virtually unlimited pricing power to raise costs for patients again this month as Senate Democrats moved toward a limited deal to regulate runaway prescription drug prices, which are forcing millions of people to ration their medicines or go without altogether.
A new analysis released Wednesday by Patients for Affordable Drugs estimates that pharmaceutical companies in the United States have raised drug prices 1,186 times so far this year, further inflating their bottom line while adding to the already crippling financial burden on patients. .
Patients for Affordable Drugs found that between June 24 and July 5, drug companies raised prices for 133 products. Pfizer, for example, raised the cost of its leukemia drug Besponsa again this month, raising its price per vial to $21,056.
“This is Pfizer’s fourth hike on the cancer drug during the Covid-19 pandemic, even as the company enjoys record profits from its vaccine,” the analysis notes.
The patient group also highlighted Amgen’s price hikes for its autoimmune disease drug Enbrel. The California company’s price increases for drugs have even exceeded the record US inflation rate.
Amgen’s two price hikes for Enbrel this year alone are particularly brazen given that the company has recently come under congressional scrutiny over its business practices.
“Americans are grappling with record inflation and the continuing challenges of a pandemic,” David Mitchell, founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs, said in a statement. “Yet Big Pharma continues to raise drug prices with little regard for the health and financial well-being of Americans.”
Mitchell, an incurable blood cancer patient whose drugs have an annual list price of more than $900,000, argued that “the latest pharmaceutical industry price hikes demonstrate yet again why the Senate must defend the American people and enact the comprehensive drug pricing reforms in the reconciliation package.
“These reforms are overwhelmingly supported by Republicans, Democrats and Independents, and the votes are in to pass the package immediately,” Mitchell said. “We must end the unlimited ability of pharmaceutical companies to dictate prices at the expense of patients.”
Earlier this month, Senate Democrats unveiled 190 pages of legislation containing their plan to require Medicare to negotiate prices for a small subset of prescription drugs directly with drug companies. The proposal also includes other measures to contain costs, such as a cap of $2,000 per year on direct prescription drug payments for Medicare Part D enrollees.
But like The American perspective‘s David Dayen noted earlier this month in a detailed review of the plan – which predictably drew opposition from the pharmaceutical industry – the scope of the legislation is very narrow.
“In earlier versions of the bill, negotiated prices would have been available to all insurance payers,” Dayen observed. “But in this bill, the awards are only available to Medicare beneficiaries. Both Part B (for drugs dispensed in hospitals) and Part D (Medicare’s prescription drug coverage) drugs on which Medicare spends large amounts are eligible.
“Drugs eligible for negotiation must also be at least 7-11 years beyond their approval stage, which means there is always a buffer of exclusivity where new drugs can charge whatever they want. “, he continued. “Since no drug can get a negotiated price at launch, this will likely result in higher launch prices.”
Introductory prices are already in the stratosphere: Research published last month showed that nearly half of all new branded prescription drugs launched in the United States in 2020 and 2021 had an initial price of $150,000 or more per year.
Ashley Suder, a patient from Morgantown, West Virginia, who takes GSK’s Benlysta to manage her lupus, said she had to spend “all her salary” on her medication. This experience is all too common in the United States, where patients spend far more on prescription drugs than their counterparts in other wealthy countries.
Considering the latest price increases, Benlysta now carries a monthly price of $4,282.
“Without this medication, my immune system attacks my healthy tissue, leading to painful inflammation that damages my skin, joints, blood vessels, and brain,” Suder said. “With the price going up again, I’m worried about how I’m going to make ends meet while still paying for my medication.”