Big pharma’s actions speak louder than words

Rising drug prices are out of control. Over the past five years, brand name drug prices have increased at 10 times the rate of inflation, a trend that has left one-in-four Americans unable to afford the medications they need.  Meanwhile, the industry is raking in record profits.  It’s no wonder lowering drug prices was a focus on the campaign trail and the No. 1 issue voters want lawmakers to address in the 116th Congress.

Despite mounting public scrutiny and bipartisan commitments on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to combat this crisis, dozens of pharmaceutical companies raised the prices on hundreds of drugs in January – a crystal clear indicator that Big Pharma cannot be expected to do the right thing.

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Fortunately, lawmakers are taking action.

Earlier this month, the first step Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Dems attack Barr's credibility after report of White House briefings on Mueller findings MORE (D-Md.) took as the chair of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform was to launch an investigation into the drug industry’s pricing practices.  Cummings began the investigation with letters to 12 pharmaceutical companies requesting “information and communications on price increases, investments in research and development, and corporate strategies to preserve market share and pricing power.”

Additionally, both chairman Cummings and U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTen post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators On The Money: Conservatives rally behind Moore for Fed | White House interviewing other candidates | Trump, Dems spar on Tax Day | Budget watchdogs bemoan 'debt denialism' GOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents MORE (R-Iowa) will hold the first of many hearings this week to discuss the issue with industry experts and analysts.  With Big Pharma spending more money on lobbying than ever before, these hearings are sure to ignite action by drug manufacturers and trade associations who are eager to defend their position on patients, prices and profits.

That’s why, in advance of these hearings, the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing (CSRxP) compared Big Pharma’s rhetoric with its track record, revealing many empty proclamations and pledges made by the industry, including:

  • “Patients Are Our First Priority.”  That’s hard to believe when you look at the prices of life-saving drugs like insulin.  The diabetes drug’s three largest manufacturers, accounting for 99 percent of the marketplace, have been steadily increasing the price for years – 700 percent over a 10 year period.  In the face of rising prices, one-quarter of patients with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes have turned to rationing their insulin, some with deadly consequences.
  • “We Are Committed To Acting Responsibly & Ethically.”  Pharma’s incessant efforts to prevent competition and price gouge patients contradicts that sentiment.  Just look at AbbVie, the maker of the best-selling drug in the world, Humira.  The company claims it is “committed to cultivating an ethical, transparent and inclusive culture,” while also bragging about its success in blocking generic competition, maintaining its monopoly and price gouging patients with $38,000 a year price tags.
  • “Research & Development Is Driving Up Costs.”  One of the most common narratives pushed by the industry is that the high cost of researching and developing (R&D) a new drug, or updating an existing drug, forces companies to increase prices to get a return on their investment. In reality, nine out of the 10 biggest pharmaceutical companies spend 50 percent more on advertising existing drugs than researching and developing new ones. As one health expert put it: “Research and development is only about 17 percent of total spending in most large drug companies … drug companies cannot justify price increases by claiming research and development costs.”

As millions more Americans struggle to access the medications they need at a price they can afford, it’s clear pharmaceutical companies’ actions speak louder than their words.  With bipartisan efforts to lower drug prices this year, Congress and the Trump administration have a unique opportunity to hold Big Pharma accountable and put patients first. 

Lauren Blair is the communications director for the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing, a nonpartisan coalition committed to fostering an informed discussion on sustainable drug pricing and developing bipartisan, market-based solutions that promote competition, open and honest pricing, and value to improve affordability.