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On The Newly Formed Congressional Task Force on Prescription Drug Prices…

Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force Press Conference November 4, 2015
Americans should know about the heat coming down against the pharmaceutical industry from certain members of Congress in an effort to combat the public health crisis of high drug prices. This week, nine lawmakers from the House of Representatives announced the formation of a new group called the Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force. Its goals are clear, to lower cost barriers to life saving medication and to demand greater transparency about drug cost decisions made by the pharmaceutical industry.

Two pertinent facts were continually raised. One, high drug prices are the No. 1 healthcare issue in America. Two, medication prices are much lower in other countries, about 50% lower in the UK.

To announce the task force, a press conference was led by Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and included speeches by Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-MI), Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), and Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD). We wrote about Rep. Cummings’ efforts a couple of weeks back as Congressman Cummings noted PharmacyChecker.com as a supporter of the Prescription Drug Affordability Act of 2015. I also want to note  thank Congresswoman DeLauro for recently becoming a co-sponsor of the Personal Drug Importation Fairness Act of 2015.

The speakers have supported a variety of solutions to lowering drug prices, including allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies; ending “pay-for-delay,” a practice sometimes described as payoffs by brand drug patent holders to generic drug companies to that the latter will postpone launching a lower cost generic; reforming prescription drug importation laws to make it easier to access lower cost medications from other countries; and greater oversight into pharmaceutical industry pricing practices.

Some highlighted quotes or phrases:

  • “If the people are not able to afford their prescriptions that means they suffer and in some instances they die.” Rep. Cummings.
  • McDermott’s take: “The pharmaceutical companies have got the Congress in the palm of their hand and they will not let us go.”
  • The problem of high drug prices was referred to as an “emergency situation” by Rep. Sander Levin.

It’s no secret that I support much of this agenda. But what is needed is bipartisanship, and I’m waiting for these leaders, as part of their noble effort, to consider looking critically at the Obama administration’s record on personal drug importation and online pharmacies. Candidate Obama in 2007 supported reforming the law to make it easier for Americans to import lower cost medication. Unfortunately, in its efforts to pass the Affordable Care Act, which I supported, the Obama administration made a deal with big pharma to change course and dump drug importation legal reform in exchange for pharma’s support for Obamacare and agreement to new discounts on Medicare Part D medications through the coverage gap (the “Donut hole”).

On that final note, the Obama administration, though the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has announced a forum on drug prices to be held on November 20th. Maybe we’ll learn that the Obama administration’s position on prescription drug importation has returned to one more in line with most Americans. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

(You can view the complete press conference below)

Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force Press Conference

Members of the newly formed Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force will hold a press conference announcing meaningful action to combat the skyrocketing costs of pharmaceuticals. Who: Reps. Cummings, Doggett, McDermott, DeLauro, Schakowsky, and Welch.


Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force Press Conference – Nov 4, 2015

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Generic Drugs Prices, Diminishing Returns?

Yesterday, AARP published its latest Rx Price Watch report, which highlights generic prescription medication price changes from 2006-2013. Generic medication is considered the best avenue towards lower taxpayer and consumer drug costs. In the mid-1980s, passage of the Hatch-Waxman Act helped bring lower cost generic medication to the market faster and fueled intense price competition among generic manufacturers. The result was 1) much lower drug prices on medications that have lost their patents (often 90% lower) and 2) an exceedingly high generic penetration rate with generics comprising 85% of all medication use. AARP’s report suggests that generic drug prices continue to decrease, which is good, but at a much slower rate, “indicating that the era of consistent generic drug price decreases may be coming to an end.”

Stay calm. Generics are still usually much lower cost than the brand names and that will continue to be the case. AARP’s report notes that 2013 had the lowest average generic price decrease (4.1%) since 2006. However, AARP’s data also shows considerable fluctuation in this rate, enough to question whether or not we’re really experiencing a new normal in which generic drug prices no longer decline year after year. For example, the decreases in average generic drug prices that occurred in the prior two years, 2011 and 2012, 9.1% and 14.5%, respectively, were the highest since 2006. These numbers, however, most likely reflect what’s referred to as the “patent cliff” – a time when many patents on blockbuster brand name drugs, such as Lipitor and Plavix, lost their patents, thus allowing much lower cost generics to enter the market. As I see it, we don’t really know the future trend of generic drug prices.

Again, most generic drugs are way cheaper than their brand name counterparts and just as safe and effective. The big generic drug problem is that the cost of some generics has spiked outrageously over the past few years, sometimes beyond the reach of the American consumer. Usually when we talk about insane price increases of brand name drugs year over year the percentages are 10, 20, 30 or even 40%. But the increases for some generics have literally been in the 2000% range! One crazy example, reported by the People’s Pharmacy, showed that the cost of the antibiotic doxycycline skyrocketed from six cents ($.06) to $3.30, a 5500% increase.

In fact, directing you back to our research from November 2014, we found that even brand name versions sold in foreign pharmacies can be MUCH lower cost than the generics sold here! Please keep in mind that those same generics mentioned in our analysis may have already come down in price domestically. So before you buy from an international online pharmacy, check your local pharmacy first.

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Sen. Sanders Hearing Shines Bright Light on Bizarre U.S. Generic Drug Price Increases; PharmacyChecker.com Shows How Foreign Brands Are Often Cheaper!

From Pembroke Consulting, published on DrugChannels.net

From Pembroke Consulting, published on DrugChannels.net

Yesterday, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) held a hearing in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Primary Aging and Health entitled “Why Are Some Generic Drugs Skyrocketing in Price?” Bizarre drug price increases of 1,000% and up are becoming more common. This problem is not new: in the beginning of this year the People’s Pharmacy reported a 6,000% increase in the price Doxycycline!

Senator Sanders noted that the price of Digoxin, which treats congestive heart failure, has increased 883% from 12 cents to $1.06 per pill from 2013 to 2014. Migraine drug Divalproex Sodium ER spiked 881% from 27 cents to $2.38 per pill.

We are always ecstatic when Congress scrutinizes the obscene drug prices in America, and we applaud Sen. Sanders, but our focus is on what can be done now so that people today don’t go without needed medications. In his introductory remarks, Sen. Sanders said: “Drug prices in the country are by far the highest in the world.” Let’s elaborate on that. (more…)

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Candidate Rick Santorum Defends High Drug Prices In America

During a recent campaign appearance in front of a Tea Party crowd, as reported by ABC News, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum told a mother and her sick son that high drug costs are fair because they are determined by free market forces. It appears that Mr. Santorum doesn’t understand the crisis of prescription drug prices and that the market is failing to price prescription drugs within reach for 10s of millions of Americans.

According to ABC News, “Santorum told a large Tea Party crowd here that he sympathized with the boy’s case, but he also believed in the marketplace,” and that companies wouldn’t be making the life-saving drugs if they didn’t believe they would turn a profit doing so. The former senator from Pennsylvania seemed to be lecturing the American people when he said: “People have no problem paying $900 for an iPad…but paying $900 for a drug they have a problem with — it keeps you alive. Why? Because you’ve been conditioned to think health care is something you can get without having to pay for it.” (more…)

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Average Americans Show Compassion for their Fellow Citizens Who Can’t Afford Medication – What About Our Elected Officials?

Two years ago, ABC News ran a segment (What Would You Do?) that showed Americans going out of their way to help strangers who could not afford their medication. Actors visited local pharmacies pretending they could not afford to pay for their much-needed prescription drugs – something that happens frequently in the U.S. Some people offered to help pay for part or all of the drug orders, and one man even left the pharmacy to get money from an ATM. In addition to financial assistance, these individuals also offered words of solidarity against the outrageous costs. Karen Wenberg (real person) told the woman (actress) she was helping: “Don’t be embarrassed. You know what? Medication is so f***ing expensive. There is no reason to be embarrassed… Sometimes we just pass on the good that’s been given to us.”

As we write this, Congress is marking up a new law, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), one supported by the Obama administration that could effectively block Americans from acquiring safe and affordable medication from online pharmacies outside the U.S. As the government seeks to rein in spending, why do they want to stop consumers from getting non-tax-payer funded, affordable medication? When people go without medication, they can become sick or get sicker, putting a great burden on the health care system. To see what the government is doing, read RxRight.org’s guest post on techdirt. (more…)

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