Big Pharma is in the mood to share! A new report commissioned by the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade association representing the world’s largest global pharmaceutical companies, seems to assert that the blame for high drug prices should be shared with pharmacy benefit managers, retail pharmacies, wholesalers, and, I think, even hospitals – and more. It appears that PhRMA’s main target is the pharmaceutical benefit managers.
Noting that President Donald Trump recently said drug companies are “getting away with murder” – I view this report as pharma’s attempt to communicate, “hey, prez, we’re not alone here in being greedy.” The report has merit, which I’ll explain below when looking at the dollar numbers. But as far as the American consumer is concerned: murder is murder. Hey, I’m just using the president’s words. Due to the killing made by pharma and friends (because they’re all friends), 10s of millions of Americans are leaving their scripts unfilled because the prices, one way or the other, are out of reach.
Executives from Valeant Pharmaceuticals were lambasted about their pernicious business strategy by members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging at a congressional hearing this past Wednesday. I’m glad the hot spotlight continues to shine on the faces of pharmaceutical company executives for runaway drug prices in America, but let’s not go too far differentiating Valeant from many other bigger pharmaceutical companies. While there are important nefarious nuances to Valeant’s practices, their executives were essentially called out for trying to do what all drug company business executives do: make as much money as they possibly can.
Valeant Chief Executive J. Michael Pearson’s contrite response was surreal: “Let me state plainly that it was a mistake to pursue, and in hindsight I regret pursuing, transactions where a central premise was a planned increase in the price of medicines.” I’m sure Mr. Pearson has regrets – even pharma execs feel bad about what they have done – but is the regret really felt for pursuing a business strategy of maximizing drug prices in the U.S. market? As a rational business actor, that’s what his job is as CEO of a publicly-traded company. Isn’t that what all CEO’s of pharmaceutical companies do? Yes, but…
Valeant is viewed as particularly pernicious because its price hikes for critical medications Nitropress, Isuprel, Syprine, and Cupermine, were 310%, 720%, 3,200%, and 6000%, respectively. Even worse these medications are old drugs, not new innovative medications. Those increases make average patented, brand name drug price increases of almost 15% in 2015 look paltry, even when that average exceeded inflation in leaps and bounces, which was under 1%.
Continuing our quest to get the truth out and for our elected leaders in Congress to take bold action to protect online access to safe and affordable medication, we’re publishing a section a week of our report called Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation, and Public Health. The Government Accountability Office Report on Internet pharmacies, which we’ve attested contains inaccuracies and is misleading about buying medication online, clearly relied heavily on pharmaceutical industry sources. Here’s how:
Some pharmaceutical companies, including many members of the PhRMA, view foreign online pharmacies as a commercial threat because Americans are able to obtain medications at lower prices leading to lower profits. The U.S. pharmacy industry views non-U.S. online pharmacies as unfair competition because the latter can charge lower prices. Many of the groups identified by GAO as stakeholders are drug companies and U.S. pharmacies or groups that they fund, including the following groups:
Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies
International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition
National Association of Boards of Pharmacy Pharmacies
National Association of Chain Drug Stores
National Community Pharmacists Association
Partnership for Safe Medicines
Pharmaceutical Security Institute
Of the 35 stakeholder groups identified by GAO, at least 33% (13) are pharmaceutical companies or groups that receive funding by pharmaceutical companies or U.S. pharmacies. Another stakeholder is the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), as are eight of its member companies. CSIP is a private consortium of businesses formed in response to pressure by the White House Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, which mostly operates as another voice and information clearinghouse for the other stakeholders listed. Three associations representing U.S. pharmacy boards and pharmacies are listed above.