Decrease in Drug Prices for the US?: Do Not Hold Your Breath!

photo by Carol Duff

Health Editor’s Note: Have you seen a decrease in the prices you pay for your medicines?  Trump promised it would happen. He appointed Alex Azar to make it happen. The exorbitant cost of drugs reigns supreme. Choices between buying food or your prescriptions medications. Enough is enough.  Drug companies make huge profits on drugs, even drugs that they did not specifically develop or have already been developed. Drugs can outlive their patent and will then be available to the biggest taker. The drug, colchicine, comes to mind.  It has been used to treat gout for decades.  Henry the VIII would have probably given his kingdom for some. Colchicine is extracted from a plant, the autumn crocus and has has long been the method of treatment for gout flare-ups with historical proof that the ancient Greeks used it.

Any company can charge about 300% to make a profit….300% of manufacturing cost.  That would seem to be a usual practice.  Drug companies go way beyond that percentage of profit. Often the research that drug companies would like to say they are paying for have been subsidized by the government, will have had tremendous tax right offs, and will be cross-subsidized by every failure being written off for the cost of failure. Pharma makes sure it takes very good care of itself. Their lobbying efforts constantly bring them free lunch

In 2006, the FDA safety program, Unapproved Drugs Initiative, placed the tried and true colchicine into the unapproved drug category and sought more extensive testing to prove safety of using this drug, a compound that has been used for centuries. The result of this dalliance by the FDA was a price increase of 2000%.  Under the Unapproved Drugs Initiative small companies, such as the Philadelphia drugmaker, URL Pharma, were given licenses for testing. By 2009 the FDA received a New Drug Application for colchicine from URL Pharm and granted them the rights to colchicine.  This created a monopoly over pricing and the price of colchicine skyrocketed.  In 2012, Takeda Pharaceutical Co. bought URL Pharma for $800 million and this included the rights to colchicine and give that company an earning of $1.2 billion by increasing the price again.

URL Pharma had done 17 studies (maybe, maybe not) and invested $100 million (maybe, maybe not) into the product.  Reminder here: this product comes from a plant that has been around for hundreds upon hundreds of years with no FDA approval rating.  Now it seems an approval rating was essential since money could be made. $45 million went to the FDA for the application fee and the price of a tablet of colchicine went from $.09 per tablet to $4.85 per tablet.

Thank you republican party.  You had to eliminate trade unions because they were fighting this. Health care costs are one of the most destructive things to our survival. Costs of health care can drive you into bankruptcy and often do. The AFL-CIO led the war against this craziness. They had to be shut down.

What we see here are pharmaceutical companies making money they do not deserve to make, the FDA profiting upon a scheme they developed, and you, those who need colchicine for their gout flare-ups and other drugs, are being bled for a drug that should cost pennies on the dollars that you pay.

Azar, Trump’s nominee for United States Secretary for Health and Human Services  whose previous jobs included presidency of the U.S. division of Eli Lilly and Company, a major pharmaceutical drug company and was on the board of directors of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, which is a pharmaceutical lobby, has spoken about something he knows so much about. Baseless lip service. Azar pretends that he has a plan to lower drug costs. Trump tweeting a criticism of drug companies and their continual increase in drug prices. Lots of empty words with no remedy in sight. Shame on Trump, Azar, and the drug companies…Carol

Azar Calls for Changes in 340B Drug Pricing Program

Says greater transparency, program restructuring needed

by Joyce Frieden, News Editor, MedPage Today

WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar continued his campaign against high drug prices on Monday, calling for more oversight of hospitals that get drug discounts under the federal 340B program because they serve many uninsured and low-income patients.

“By one estimate, discounted purchases under 340B totaled $16 billion in 2016 — a fourfold increase just since 2009,” Azar said at the annual meeting of 340B Health, a trade group for 340B hospitals. “Government programs can grow pretty fast, but they usually don’t grow that fast.”

“This growth has occurred without any increase in statutory oversight,” he continued. “HHS works hard within the powers we have to oversee the program. But a comprehensive system for reporting on the distribution and use of the program’s benefits does not exist … The current nature of 340B is such that it is quite possible for the program’s benefits to be diverted to unintended purposes, unrelated to supporting care for low-income patients.”

For example, Azar said, “the acquisition of outpatient clinics by 340B entities has meant that a Medicare patient could pay cost-sharing on the full price of a Part B drug administered in their doctor’s office, while the doctor’s office gets the drug at a large discount that will never be known to the patient, was never intended to support care for that kind of patient, and may not be used to support care for low-income patients at all. Indeed, the discount may be so steep that the patient’s cost-sharing is greater than the price their doctor paid for the drug.”

He called for two kinds of reforms for the 340B pricing program: “greater transparency surrounding how these discounts are being used, and reforms to reduce the gap between discounted prices and the reimbursement provided, particularly by government programs.”

“We believe changes along these lines are essential to the future of the 340B program,” Azar added. “Leaving a program as it is, within the rapidly changing context of healthcare, quickly renders it outdated.”

Maureen Testoni, 340B Health’s interim president and CEO, seemed taken aback by Azar’s remarks when she spoke after Azar left the lectern. “I credit the secretary with coming here,” she said. “It certainly gives me my marching orders going forward; we have a lot of work to do.”

“They came out with their blueprint and they are obviously concerned about an impact the 340B program may be having on the market and how the 340B dollars are being used,” Testoni told MedPage Today in a meeting with reporters afterward, with a media relations representative present. “Incumbent on us from the provider community to make that clear and educate the administration and members of Congress on how valuable the program is — the fact that they do so much more uncompensated care than other types of hospitals and see so many more Medicaid patients. We’re worried that is getting lost and we really need to make sure we get that out.”

“What’s not getting as much attention is all this publicly available data on how much uncompensated care 340 B hospitals provide,” said Testoni. “[If you compare] how much is being spent on [the 340B] discount compared to how much uncompensated care 340B hospitals provide, it’s just a fraction.”

Azar’s remarks came only a few days after a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) faulted the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for lax oversight of 340B contract pharmacies — mainly retail and independent pharmacies that 340B hospitals contract with to provide drugs to patients.

The GAO listed three main problems with HRSA’s work: lack of data on how many contract pharmacies are participating in the program; weaknesses in the audit process; and lack of specific guidance for the providers involved.

“As currently structured, weaknesses in HRSA’s oversight impede its ability to ensure compliance with 340B program requirements at contract pharmacies,” the report’s authors concluded. “As the 340B program continues to grow, it is essential that HRSA address these shortcomings.”

Azar didn’t just aim his remarks at 340B hospitals; he also repeated his criticism that pharmaceutical manufacturers weren’t taking seriously the administration’s call to lower their prices. “The drug companies that recently increased prices will be remembered for creating a tipping point in U.S. drug pricing policy. As you may have recently seen on Twitter, the President’s noticed, I’ve noticed, and, more importantly, the American people have noticed. Change is coming to prescription drug pricing, whether it’s painful or not for pharmaceutical companies.”

Azar was referring to a tweet from President Trump, which called out Pfizer and other companies for raising their prices. “Pfizer & others should be ashamed that they have raised drug prices for no reason,” Trump tweeted early Monday afternoon. “They are merely taking advantage of the poor & others unable to defend themselves, while at the same time giving bargain basement prices to other countries in Europe & elsewhere. We will respond!”

At the end of May, Trump predicted that “people will see for the first time ever in this country a major drop in the cost of prescription drugs … I think we’re going to have some big news … Some of the big drug companies are going to announce voluntary massive drops in prices.” No such decreases have yet occurred.

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  1. Colchicum, the plant, is pretty but poisonous. But there are herbals and/or foods that can be used every day, that are safe. And it’s more fun to ADD a food to your diet, rather than just avoid foods that cause gout. I’d start with Tart Cherry extract every day, for example. Tabs/capsules should be pretty cheap. There is also an OTC product called Varicol that is supposed to be safe to use every day, that is not colchicine-based, and combines several herbs. I can’t vouch for either as a gout remedy, as I don’t have gout. But I love tart cherries in any form.

  2. Here in Maryland, my dear mother, a retired state employee. just had her presciption plan benefits go poof! The Govenor and State Senate all say they had nothing to do with it. Tsk Tsk and some clucking is all the responce she gets. I’m sure this is happening everywhere. Luckily she can get coverage with Dad. They are both in their 80’s, they are seeing their benefits stripped from them. There will be nothing left for the rest of us as it all will be stolen. You can’t leave a pile of cash anywhere around todays crooks.

  3. The FDA, CDC, HHS are all corrupt to the core.
    The tRump administration is much worse.
    tRump is not going to make America great again. He is going to finish off what’s left of it.

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