Companies have raised prices on 245 drugs during pandemic, advocacy group says

Getty Images

Pharmaceutical companies have raised prices on 245 drugs since the first U.S. coronavirus case was reported on Jan. 20, according to a report released Sunday by an advocacy group.

Sixty-one of the drugs that saw price increases are being used to treat COVID-19, and 30 are in clinical trials, the group Patients for Affordable Drugs said in its report. The price hikes are on par with increases the previous two years.

The report found that 44 inpatient drugs have seen price increases during the pandemic, including 20 drugs commonly used in intensive care units: sedatives, steroids, blood pressure medications and blood thinners.

“It’s outrageous, but not surprising, that against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, drug corporations have continued to raise the prices of drugs critical to keeping Americans healthy and alive,” Patients for Affordable Drugs founder David Mitchell said in a statement.

“Patients are hurting from this pandemic with widespread unemployment, insurance loss, and heightened risk for COVID-19. More than ever we all need to be able to afford our medications,” added Mitchell, who is a cancer patient.

More than 125,000 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19. Tens of millions who are now unemployed by the pandemic’s economic effects face out-of-pocket costs for medications. As cases have spiked across the nation in recent weeks, hospitals and intensive care units in several states are operating at or near capacity.

Some of the drug price increases cited in Sunday’s report can be traced to disruptions in global supply chains, while others were in response to steep growth in demand, according to the report. Eight of the drugs with price hikes — including morphine and ketamine — are under FDA-declared shortages.

Forty drugs being used to treat mild COVID-19 cases not requiring hospitalization, such as Tylenol and ibuprofen, also saw price hikes.

The report also identified price increases on 118 drugs to treat chronic conditions, including 25 cancer drugs and 23 cardiovascular medications. 

People with underlying medical conditions are six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than healthy individuals, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released June 15.

Patients for Affordable Drugs noted that 22 mental health drugs have also seen price increases in the last half-year, despite concerns over the mental health impacts of the pandemic.

A West Health/Gallup poll released June 18 found 88 percent of Americans are concerned drug companies will use the pandemic to raise prices. The same percentage of people support the federal government negotiating directly with companies on the price of a treatment for COVID-19.

House Democrats in December passed H.R. 3, which would allow the government to negotiate lower prices for drugs. The measure has not received a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate.

President Trump has often called for lowering drug prices, but efforts have stalled despite bipartisan support in Congress.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) confronted Trump last month over his inaction on the issue, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Grassley plans to request a bipartisan bill he wrote last year be included in the next coronavirus relief package, the Times reported. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who Grassley accused of blocking his bill in December, has not signaled any plans to include Grassley’s measure.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a co-sponsor of Grassley’s bill, dropped his support for an updated version of the legislation Monday.

Patients for Affordable Drugs called on Congress to act on both bills in its report Sunday.

Tags Chuck Grassley Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Drug prices Mitch McConnell Pandemic Pharmaceutical companies Ron Wyden
See all Hill.TV See all Video