Drug companies nix pleas to hold the line on prices

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Survey finds only three companies follow Allergan's promise to hold increases to single digits

When Allergan Pharmaceuticals pledged last September to hold its annual price increases to single digits, there was a slight hope that other drug companies would follow suit, but a recent Public Citizen survey finds the response has been underwhelming.

Just three of the world's top 28 pharmaceutical corporations have agreed to match Allergan’s pledge, the survey found. AbbVie, Novo Nordisk, and Valeant told the consumer group they will follow Allergan's lead, but other drug companies either dodged the question, didn't respond, or refused to take the pledge. 

“Asking for a limit of single-digit increases is a really modest request that still enables corporations to reap substantial and excessive profits,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program. “By and large, Big Pharma won’t commit even to that. Our survey results highlight how the pharmaceutical industry will not self-regulate and our elected officials need to step in with reforms that protect consumers.”

Public Citizen sent letters to the companies, but only 13 replied. Novo Nordisk and AbbVie didn't respond but issued public statements saying they would hold future price increases to less than 10 percent. Valeant said by phone that it would do likewise, Public Citizen said.


Pharmaceutical companies traditionally increase their prices every year. In January 2017, median prices for prescription medications increased 8.9 percent on average – about four times the overall inflation rate.

Some spikes were jaw-dropping:

  • Kaleo increased the price of Evzio, an anti-overdose device that is key to responding to the opioid epidemic, from $575 to $4,500 over three years, even though the device administers an old and inexpensive chemical;
  • Mylan raised the price of the EpiPen, a lifesaving device containing a century-old medication for people with severe allergies, from $103.50 in 2009 to $608.61 per package in 2016; and
  • Turing Pharmaceuticals (of Martin Shkreli fame) raised the price of its 60-plus-year-old treatment for toxoplasmosis by 5,445 percent in 2015, from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

“Corporations abuse their monopoly power to charge people as much as we will pay to care for our loved ones,” Maybarduk said. “As a result, people are splitting pills, skipping much-needed medications and being forced to choose whether to buy groceries or pick up their prescriptions. It’s a painful and untenable reality that must change.”

Promises, promises

Drug prices are a sore point with consumers -- as evidenced by a survey last November that found voters were more concerned with drug prices than with Obamacare -- and politicians ranging from all points on the political spectrum are constantly promising to do something but never quite seem to do so.

  • While still a candidate, Donald Trump promised to bring down drug prices. “I’m going to bring down drug prices. I don’t like what’s happened with drug prices,” Trump said, according to Time Magazine
  • Way back in 2015, Sen. Bernie Sanders called for action, saying Americans "should not have to live in fear that they will go bankrupt if they get sick."
  • Last August, Hillary Clinton proposed a plan that would require drug companies "to explain significant price increases, and prove that any additional costs are linked to additional patient benefits and better value."

The election, of course, is over and drug prices are higher than ever. 

Latest attempt

The latest attempt to legislate a solution comes from U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and 14 other Senate Democrats who in March introduced the “Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act,” which would curb the monopoly abuses of pharmaceutical corporations that keep prices high by penalizing companies that boost prices.

The bill also would allow Medicare to negotiate prices for seniors, reduce monopoly marketing periods, and require transparency from the pharmaceutical industry. U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bills are not given much chance of passage in the GOP-controlled Congress. 

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