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Drug prices going up despite Trump promise

10/06/2018

(SFGate) – President Trump made reducing drug prices a key promise during his election campaign, repeatedly accusing drugmakers of “getting away with murder.” At the end of May, he promised that drug companies would be announcing “massive” voluntary drug price cuts within two weeks.

An Associated Press analysis of brand-name prescription drug prices shows it’s mostly been business as usual for drugmakers. In the two months after Trump’s announcement, there were more than 16 price hikes for every decrease, the AP found. Over the first seven months of the year, there were 96 price increases for every cut.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the administration’s point man for efforts to lower drug prices, conceded in a recent interview that it will be a while before drug prices fall. He noted the complexity of the medicine market and its incentives for drugmakers to boost prices so they and middlemen make bigger profits.

“I am not counting on the altruism of pharma companies lowering their prices,” said Azar, who was a senior executive in Eli Lilly & Co.’s U.S. business for a decade when it dramatically raised prices for its insulin products.

The AP analyzed 26,176 U.S. list price changes for brand-name prescription drugs from Jan. 1 through July 31 in the years 2015 through 2018, using data supplied by health information analytics firm Elsevier. The AP focused its analysis on the first seven months of each year because of the seasonality of price changes and to make meaningful year-to-year comparisons.

The data included more than 97 percent of price changes during those periods and, for many drugs, several dosages and drugs forms, such as pills, liquids and injectable drugs. (In the 3 percent of cases not analyzed, the AP couldn’t determine how the new price compared with the previous one or whether it was for a product new on the market.)

Among the findings:

  • There were fewer price increases this year from January through July than in comparable prior-year periods, but companies still hiked prices far more often than they cut them. This year through the end of July, there were 4,412 brand-name drug price increases and 46 price cuts, a ratio of 96 to 1.
  • In June and July, right after Trump’s price cut prediction, there were 395 price increases and 24 decreases. The two dozen cuts were up from the 15 decreases in those same two months last year, but increases still outpaced decreases by a ratio of 16.5 to 1
  • The median price increase was 5.2 percent in June and July of 2018, down from 8 percent in that period in 2017.
  • The median price cut this June and July was 11 percent, much smaller than in comparable periods in prior years.

The AP also asked 24 large drug companies this summer whether they plan to cut prices. None said they do, though some didn’t answer. Drugmakers typically say they need to keep raising prices of existing drugs to pay for costly, lengthy research to develop new medicines, though critics dispute that.

Read the full story at sfgate.com


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