Drug prices steadily rise amid pandemic, data shows

Industry lobby PhRMA said that GoodRx’s data presents a false narrative “by focusing solely on list prices and ignoring the dynamics of the biopharmaceutical market that control medicine spending.”

List prices, or the sticker cost of a medicine, do not incorporate rebates, discounts and other concessions that pharmaceutical companies give to payers to ensure preferential coverage of products. Those concessions totaled $175 billion in 2019 according to SSR Health, but also typically ensured that drugs would be covered and sometimes given preference over rivals in their category.

PhRMA spokesperson Katie Koziara said that research from health data company IQVIA shows that overall price increases are below annual inflation. “However, it often doesn’t feel that way for patients,” Koziara said in a statement. “We need to fix the health care system so it works better for patients by making sure rebates and discounts are shared with patients at the pharmacy counter and making insurance work like insurance again.”

The Trump administration last year abandoned a plan to eliminate manufacturer rebates and shift to an option of passing discounts to patients due to concerns the change would raise seniors’ premiums in Medicare Part D. Several outspoken critics of the rebate rule, such as former White House domestic policy adviser Joe Grogan and former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, have since left the administration.

The biggest price hikes logged so far this month have been for the ADHD medicine Adzenys XR and the so-called female Viagra known as Addyi. Neos Therapeutics, maker of the chewable sweet-flavored Adzenys, raised its price by 10 percent. The drug’s average cash price is $439 for a month’s supply, according to GoodRx.

Ironshore Pharmaceuticals also made a 6.1 percent increase to the price for ADHD medicine Jornay PM.

Addyi manufacturer Sprout Pharmaceuticals raised the pill’s price by 9.3 percent to a new list price of $478 for a month’s supply. Though FDA approved Addyi in 2015, it has struggled to gain popularity and the drugmaker halved its price to $400 in 2018.

Some increases are just the latest in years of steady hikes. Biogen bumped the price of multiple sclerosis medicine Tysabri by 3.5 percent this month, the same margin by which it raised the medicine twice in 2019.

Dynavax raised the price for its adult hepatitis B vaccine, Heplisav-B, by 4.7 percent to $120.

“In general, drugs that increase in price are specialty drugs that few people take. But the majority of them were already expensive and only continue to increase in price,” wrote Tori Marsh, GoodRx’s health insights analyst. The company will continue to track price changes throughout the month.

Critics have been quick to blast the recent bout of price hikes. The industry “is sticking with the industry’s business-as-usual, price-hiking playbook,” said Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing Executive Director Lauren Aronson in a statement. “Engaging in price hikes during a pandemic, while receiving billions of dollars from taxpayers to help develop COVID-19 treatments, demonstrates why policymakers must act,” she added.

Four House Democrats and a Republican recently introduced a pair of bills addressing drug prices and pricing transparency, but in both cases they target Covid-19 treatments and vaccines, not the industry as a whole. The MMAPPP Act, sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), would bar market exclusivity for taxpayer-funded Covid-19 drugs and require the federal government to assure affordable prices; the TRACK Act, sponsored by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) would create a database of federally funded research for Covid-19 treatments, including the terms of agreements with manufacturers.

Manufacturers have received more than a billion dollars from the U.S. government to develop coronavirus vaccines and treatments.

A broader legislative effort in the Senate Finance Committee sponsored by Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) faltered recently after Grassley accused Democrats of walking away from what was once a bipartisan measure. The bill would have fined drugmakers that increased prices above inflation, but many Senate Republicans balked at applying that measure to Medicare Part D medicines — or those doled out at a pharmacy.