Senate Democrats to Trump: Help Us Bring Drug Prices Down

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By Bronwyn Mixter

A group of mostly Democratic senators has urged President-elect Donald Trump to help it bring down prescription drug prices.

The senators, including 18 Democrats and two independents, sent a letter Dec. 20 asking Trump to lower prices by allowing the health and human services secretary to negotiate prices for Medicare recipients; requiring drug companies to disclose costs associated with creating drugs; ending abusive price gouging; and ensuring competition and innovation that will lead to more affordable, effective drugs.

“Having lost the White House and having failed to win control of either chamber of Congress, Democrats won’t have much in their legislative arsenal, other than letters such as this,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Brian Rye told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

Bipartisan Reforms

The senators said they are “ready to advance bipartisan reforms that will help achieve the goal we all share: reducing the burden exorbitant drug prices are placing on hard-working Americans.”

“The American public is fed up, with roughly 8-in-10 Americans reporting that drug prices are unreasonable, and that we must take action to lower costs,” the senators said.

In particular, the senators said there will be opportunities to make changes as Congress considers legislation to reauthorize the Food and Drug Administration’s user fee programs.

The industry-paid user fees help fund the FDA. All of the user fee programs expire in September 2017. After that time, new legislation will be needed to reauthorize the programs for fiscal years 2018 through 2022. The agency has separate programs for prescription drugs, generic drugs, biosimilars and medical devices.

Focus on Value

“The conversation should be focusing on value rather than simply on price,” Kay Holcombe, senior vice president of science policy for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 14 during an interview on BIO’s 2017 priorities.

Holcombe said BIO has initiated a campaign to educate the public about the value of pharmaceutical and biologic products, which will continue in 2017.

BIO also wants to help people understand the complexity of the drug pricing system, Holcombe said. “There are a number of steps that happen after a company launches a product and those steps include rebates that are provided to pharmacy benefit managers [PBMs] and insurers,” and the ultimate price that a patient pays is based on what PBMs and insurers pay for the drug, the rebates they receive and how much profit they are making, she said.

“So the prices that patients are actually seeing at the end are not necessarily at all related to the launch price for an individual product,” Holcombe said. “So we are hoping to do a good job in educating people about the fact that the system is not so simple and straightforward as drug companies setting the price at X amount of dollars and then you pay X amount of dollars.”

Generic Industry to Trump

The Generic Pharmaceutical Association (GPhA) Dec. 20 also said it sent a memo to Trump outlining a series of solutions to lower drug costs.

The solutions include:

  •  promoting timely access to affordable generic drugs that meet high standards of a streamlined development and approval process;
  •  creating policies that recognize the different economic dynamics of the brand and generic markets;
  •  ensuring an intellectual property framework that balances the need for innovation and robust generic competition;
  •  stopping some brand companies from blocking or delaying generic drug development; and
  •  increasing the use of affordable generics across all patient populations.

“Generic and biosimilar medicines are a readymade solution to high drug costs,” Chip Davis, president and chief executive officer of GPhA, said in a statement. “Unleashing the full potential of these medicines will require a bipartisan effort that includes patients, pharmacists, doctors, payors, supply chain partners and others who rely on access to safe, effective and more affordable medicines.”

The Affordable Care Act created an FDA approval pathway for biosimilar drugs, which are meant to be lower-cost alternatives to expensive biologic drugs.

The Trump transition team didn’t respond to a request for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bronwyn Mixter in Washington at bmixter@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brian Broderick at bbroderick@bna.com

For More Information

The letter is at http://src.bna.com/kT4.

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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