By Mary Johnson, Editor
Over the past year I’ve been horrified to learn about the pricing tactics of what can only be described as the Pharmaceutical Jihad. Anyone with a chronic health condition knows the feeling when your doctor gives you a new prescription. You stare at the pharmacy receipt in sheer disbelief. You watch in terror as every prescription refill torches and burns your Part D initial drug coverage limit. You slide ever more rapidly into Medicare’s drug coverage gap known as the doughnut hole. Once there, beneficiaries are stretched for a much higher share of the cost — 65% of the cost of generic drugs, or 45% of the cost of brand name drugs.
Prices of both new and generic drugs are taking terrifying climbs. According to a CBS “60 Minutes” program with Lesley Stahl, “The Cost of Cancer Drugs” new cancer drugs are often priced at “well over $100,000” a year. And earlier this year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved two new cholesterol drugs that reduce cholesterol by approximately 55%-60% in patients who are already on or who cannot take cholesterol-reducing statin drugs. While the drugs may help up to 15 million Americans a year, they come with a $14,000 a year price tag.
As complaints grow, the soaring cost of prescription drugs is becoming a top issue with both Medicare and younger patients alike. A recent poll by the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation found that making sure high - cost drugs for chronic conditions are affordable is a number - one priority with the public. Drug companies are increasingly coming under pressure to justify their prices. Drug makers claim the high costs of research and development are driving the outrageous price tags. But that’s not the only reason.
The Boston Globe recently reported that Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. won approval for a medicine that could treat adult onset cystic fibrosis, a life - threatening lung disease. The two-drug therapy called Orkambi costs about $259,000 per patient annually. This is no typo. The Boston Globe went on to report that the new drug regimen “is expected to help provide more than $53 million in one-time bonuses for 12 senior Vertex executives” if the company is profitable. The problem is that there are roughly only 15,000 Americans who suffer from cystic fibrosis — one reason given for the astronomical six-figure cost per patient.
These are just a few of hundreds of examples —including mega cost increases in generic drugs as well. For example, 200 puff albuterol inhalers to treat asthma that used to cost about $10 now cost patients about $50.
The public is entitled to an explanation. Outrageous price tags for drugs are putting Medicare patients and the program at risk, while Congress looks the other way. TSCL supports legislation that would give Medicare the authority to negotiate pharmaceutical prices for covered drugs, and would require greater pricing transparency from manufacturers.
Are extreme drug costs affecting you? TSCL wants to hear from you. Contact us.