Leadership from seven different drug makers appeared before the Senate Finance Committee late last month , to provide their recommendations for solving the crisis surrounding drug costs. The executives from AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, and Sanofi presented an assortment of ideas that were heavy on finger-pointing and light on actionable solutions.
In a development that surprised absolutely no one, the most obvious answer to rising drug costs—lowering the actual cost of the drugs—was omitted from the written testimony submitted ahead of the hearing.
Instead, the pharma executives chose to confuse the conversation by pointing their fingers at Pharmacy Benefit Mangers (PBMs). Though PBMs, which are unknown to most consumers, may make a convenient scapegoat, their job is actually to negotiate lower prices on pharmaceuticals, and they do a pretty good job of it. It is no wonder the pharmaceutical industry wants to demonize them. But we’ve stated the obvious before and it bears repeating: Prescription drugs cost a lot because pharmaceutical companies set high prices.
According to reports, AbbVie has dramatically increased the price of Humira, a drug used to treat painful conditions like arthritis and Crohn’s disease in recent years. Now carrying an annual price tag that tops a whopping $60,000, the cost has nearly doubled since 2014.
But AbbVie isn’t the only one with exorbitantly high, and rising, prices on essential medications. Long-lasting insulin from Sanofi increased by 48% over the same period.
There are drugs that treat the worst cases of autosomal recessive osteopetrosis—a congenital disease that can cause failure to thrive and slow growth in childhood—that cost more than $26,000 for a one-month supply. That same drug can be had for less than $350 in Britain.
The University of Pittsburgh recently announced that the cost of lifesaving drugs like insulin is now outpacing U.S. inflation rates. For diabetics who require insulin to live, the astronomical cost has led some to ration their supply or even to go without.
Do you know what happens to Type 1 diabetics when they don’t have enough insulin in their bodies? They die.But that news didn’t stop the pharma executives from another display of deflection, citing the need for a change in Medicare policy that would cap the amount senior citizens would be required to pay at the pharmacy, leaving taxpayers to pick up the rest of the bill.
Rising drug costs is an issue that both sides of the political aisle agree needs to be addressed, and the time for change is now. While drugmakers continue to point fingers, we’ll be crossing ours in hopes that these multibillion-dollar behemoths do what’s right and lower their prices.
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