Consumers are angry over prescription drug costs and now all three branches of the federal government are trying to take action.
A pair of US Senators has opened an investigation into prescription drug pricing in response to growing reports of companies buying medicines and then raising prices to previously unforeseen heights. And their targets include Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Martin Shkreli’s Turing Pharmaceuticals.
The senators – Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri — head the Senate Special Committee on Aging, which plans to hold a hearing on Dec. 9. In preparation, they sent letters to four drug makers – including Retrophin, which Shkreli previously headed before being ousted last year – requesting documentation about price hikes.
“Some of the recent actions we’ve seen in the pharmaceutical industry … have looked like little more than price gouging,” said McCaskill in a statement. “We need to get to the bottom of why we’re seeing huge spikes in drug prices that seemingly have no relationship to research and development costs.”
Separately, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, plans to hold a daylong conference on Nov. 20 to look at ways of speeding the discovery of innovative drugs, but also discuss how medicines can be made more affordable.
Meanwhile, all 18 Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wrote a letter to committee chairman Jason Chaffetz to insist he schedule a vote for issuing subpoenas and compel Shkreli and J. Michael Pearson, the Valeant chief executive, to produce documents about pricing. The Democrats are mad that Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, ignored previous requests.
And several House Democrats, led by Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, announced a task force to explore drug pricing. Cummings, by the way, teamed last year with Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Senator and presidential hopeful, to hold hearings into rising prices for generic drugs.
The efforts reflects widespread concern about prescription drug costs. Last week, a poll found that 77 percent of Americans want the White House and Congress to ensure that expensive drugs for treating chronic conditions are affordable. And 63 percent want government action to lower drug prices, in general, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey.
Among the issues the Senate committee plans to examine are price increases on recently acquired drugs that have lost patent protection, and mergers and acquisitions that have sometimes led to dramatic increases on these drugs. They committee also wants to know more about the Food and Drug Administration process for approving generic drugs and its ability to influence distribution and marketing.
The investigation is not a surprise. Last month, McCaskill publicly expressed her anger at Valeant over its response to her recent inquiry into its pricing practices. At the time, she complained that the drug maker failed to answer several of her questions and only responded to her after federal prosecutors issued subpoenas to the company about its patient-assistance programs.
Valeant, as you know, has been making news all year, thanks, in part, to its pricing policies. The drug maker became a national story after a report disclosed that it bought the rights to a pair of heart medicines frequently used by hospitals — Isuprel and Nitropress — and the following day jacked up the prices by 525 percent and 212 percent, respectively. More recently, its relationship with a mail-order pharmacy raised questions about dealings with insurers and pharmacy benefits managers, which compile lists of preferred drugs that will be covered by insurance.
Shkreli’s Turing Pharmaceuticals also sparked controversy after boosting the price of its Daraprim drug to $750 from $13.55 less than a month after buying the decades-old, life-saving medicine from another drug maker. A Turing executive later told us how the company uses a closed, or tightly controlled, distribution system to prevent generic drug makers from obtaining enough supplies to run clinical tests needed for FDA approval. The New York State Attorney General is now investigating.
The senators also want information from Retrophin, which obtained rights to Thiola, a kidney disease treatment, and then raised the price from $1.50 a tablet to $30. And they contacted Rodelis Therapeutics over its decision to acquire rights to Seromycin, which is used to treat tuberculosis and then increasing the cost of 30 pills from $500 to $10,800. .
A Valeant spokeswoman wrote us that the drug maker will cooperate with the probe, but that prices for its drugs fluctuate due to several factors. And a Retrophin spokesman wrote us that the company will work with the committee. We asked the other drug makers for comment and will update you accordingly.Print This Post