Senators urge action to block drastic drug price hikes

December 21, 2016 by Matthew Perrone

Angered by skyrocketing drug prices, a pair of senators on Wednesday urged Congress to block companies from cornering the market on old, off-patent drugs.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., released findings from a year-long investigation into companies like Turing Pharmaceuticals, which generated national outrage last year after hiking the price of a life-saving anti-infection drug by more than 5,000 percent.

Committee investigators concluded that Turing and several other companies "engaged in price gouging ... to make massive profits from decades-old life-saving therapies." The lawmakers, top members of the Special Committee on Aging, presented similar findings at three hearings over the past year.

The 131-page report comes as lawmakers and pharmaceutical executives try to gauge President-elect Donald Trump's interest in government intervention to curb rising drug prices, a leading health care concern among patients.

While campaigning, Trump said he would support efforts to allow Medicare—the massive government health plan for seniors—to directly negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, a step long opposed by the pharmaceutical lobby. That policy does not appear among the health care proposals currently outlined on Trump's website. The list includes a policy allowing importation of cheaper drugs from Canada and other countries, another proposal opposed by drugmakers.

Representatives for Trump did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

A day earlier, 19 senators sent a letter to Trump, urging him to follow-through on pledges to help lower drug prices.

"During your campaign, you promised to implement bold reforms to bring down the cost of prescription drugs," states the letter, signed by 17 Democrats and independent Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine. "We are ready to advance bipartisan reforms that will help achieve the goal we all share: reducing the burden exorbitant drug prices are placing on hard-working Americans.

The new report draws similarities between the tactics of companies such as Turing and Valeant Pharmaceuticals and investment firms that profit by buying under-valued stocks and pushing up prices. Investigators note that Turing's former CEO, Martin Shkreli, and several other executives probed by the committee previously worked at hedge funds.

"This may help explain why these companies may have been run more like hedge funds than pharmaceutical companies," the report states.

Shkreli stepped down as the head of Turing after prosecutors charged him with securities fraud late last year. Valeant is the target of more than 10 government probes, plus multiple shareholder lawsuits.

Turing said in a statement Wednesday that it has taken several steps to increase access to its drug, daraprim, including offering discounts to hospitals. The drug still carries a list price of $750 per pill.

"It is disappointing that the report takes out of context and selectively highlights certain comments, including from past employees that are not reflective of Turing's current commitments and efforts," the company said.

A Valeant spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An AP analysis published last month found that congressional investigations have had little effect on drug prices. A review of nearly 30 brand-name and generic medications targeted by Congress—including those probed by the Aging committee—showed that most have not budged since coming under federal scrutiny.

Many pharmaceutical companies increase prices annually as a matter of doing business. But the drastic increases profiled in the report helped turn drug pricing into a national issue, reverberating from late-night television to the campaign. The tactics seemed to confirm some of the public's worst fears about pharmaceutical companies: that they are more Wall Street-driven investment vehicles than actual makers of medicines.

"We've got to find ways to increase competition for medicines and ensure that patients and their families aren't being gouged," said McCaskill.

McCaskill and Collins call for several legislative steps intended to increase price competition, including giving priority review to drugmakers that develop cheaper versions of drugs that are only available from a single company. Elsewhere, lawmakers favor short-term importation of drugs in short supply to help bring down U.S. prices.

Explore further: Drug prices don't budge even after pressure from Congress

Related Stories

Drug prices don't budge even after pressure from Congress

November 16, 2016
Congress's routine of publicly shaming drug company executives over high prices works no better than a placebo: It may make some people feel better, but it doesn't treat the problem.

Another drug company in the crosshairs of Congress

March 29, 2016
Another pharmaceutical company is being targeted by lawmakers over drug pricing.

Federal prosecutors accuse execs of fixing drug prices

December 14, 2016
Federal prosecutors have charged two former pharmaceutical executives with fixing prices of generic drugs, part of an ongoing government investigation into anticompetitive tactics by companies that make lower-cost drugs intended ...

Senate panel investigates drug price hikes

November 4, 2015
A Senate committee tasked with protecting seniors is launching an investigation into prescription drug pricing, responding to public anxiety about companies hiking prices for once-inexpensive medicines.

Pricey prostate cancer drug's makers targeted by Congress

March 29, 2016
Lawmakers again are targeting the pharmaceutical industry over sky-high prescription drug prices, a hot issue this year in Washington and on the campaign trail that's been dragging down stock prices of many drugmakers.

Congress: drugmakers planned price hikes to boost profits

February 2, 2016
Two drugmakers have made a practice of buying and then dramatically hiking the prices of low-cost drugs given to patients with life-threatening conditions including heart disease, AIDS and cancer, according to excerpts from ...

Recommended for you

In most surgery patients, length of opioid prescription, number of refills spell highest risk for misuse

January 17, 2018
The possible link between physicians' opioid prescription patterns and subsequent abuse has occupied the attention of a nation in the throes of an opioid crisis looking for ways to stem what experts have dubbed an epidemic. ...

Patients receive most opioids at the doctor's office, not the ER

January 16, 2018
Around the country, state legislatures and hospitals have tightened emergency room prescribing guidelines for opioids to curb the addiction epidemic, but a new USC study shows that approach diverts attention from the main ...

FDA bans use of opioid-containing cough meds by kids

January 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—Trying to put a dent in the ongoing opioid addiction crisis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday slapped strict new restrictions on the use of opioid-containing cold and cough products by kids.

Taking ibuprofen for long periods found to alter human testicular physiology

January 9, 2018
A team of researchers from Denmark and France has found that taking regular doses of the pain reliever ibuprofen over a long period of time can lead to a disorder in men called compensated hypogonadism. In their paper published ...

Nearly one-third of Canadians have used opioids: study

January 9, 2018
Nearly one in three Canadians (29 percent) have used "some form of opioids" in the past five years, according to data released Tuesday as widespread fentanyl overdoses continue to kill.

Growing opioid epidemic forcing more children into foster care

January 8, 2018
The opioid epidemic has become so severe it's considered a national public health emergency. Addiction to prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone and morphine, has contributed to a dramatic rise in overdose deaths and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.