White House announces drug prices forum amid outcry

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The Obama administration on Tuesday announced a public forum on drug prices amid intensifying scrutiny of the issue. 

{mosads}The forum in Washington on Nov. 20 will bring together drug companies, insurers, consumers and other stakeholders to discuss the issue. 

In announcing the event, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) pointed to the high cost of specialty drugs that treat complex conditions. 

“The high and growing cost of drugs has created hardship for families, employers, and states,” the invitation states. “Specialty medications represent only 1% of all prescriptions but, in 2014, these medications resulted in over 31% of all drug spending.

“[HSS] Secretary [Sylvia Mathews] Burwell is asking stakeholders to share information as to how to address this complex problem,” it continues. 

The forum comes amid growing outcry over drug prices. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have made the issue a focus and denounced drug companies for their prices. Both have put forward proposals that the pharmaceutical industry strongly opposes, like allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices down. 

Martin Shkreli, the hedge fund manager who raised the price overnight, from $13.50 to $750, of a drug to treat a life-threatening infection, has also shone a light on skyrocketing drug prices. 

Drug prices overall rose 12.6 percent last year, the highest growth since 2002, according to HHS data. 

The issue is also resonating with the public. A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation this month found that making sure high-cost drugs are affordable is the public’s top health priority, at 77 percent. More Republicans in the poll put a priority on dealing with high drug prices than repealing ObamaCare, at 73 to 58 percent.

“Biopharmaceutical innovation helps patients live longer, healthier lives,” PhRMA spokesman Robert Zirkelbach said in a statement. “We welcome the opportunity to discuss how we can ensure patients have access to the care and treatments they need without unnecessary barriers.”

He added that, “while discussions about cost are important, we need to look at spending across the health care system to find solutions that ensure access to high quality, patient-centered care and continue to encourage development of innovative, life-changing medicines.”

The forum will include a discussion of possible new payment models that pay for a drug based on how effective it is shown to be. No changes are expected to be announced at the event.

Drug companies emphasize that drug spending makes up just one-tenth of health spending overall, and its growth rate is expected to rise in line with other health spending as well. 

—Updated at 1:33 p.m.

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