HHS, Senators examine increasing medication costs

With the increasing prices of prescription medications becoming a burden for patients and the healthcare system, President Barack Obama’s administration has made the issue more of a priority.

On Nov. 20, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will hold a forum in Washington, D.C., to discuss ways to combat high cost medications and help deliver more affordable drugs. HHS announced the forum in a news release on Nov. 3.

Although HHS did not specify which drugs would be discussed, cardiovascular medications have drawn scrutiny in recent months, particularly after the approval of the first two proprotein convertase subtilisin kexin type 9 (PCSK9) inhibitor this summer. PCSK inhibitors have been shown to lower high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in some patients, but their wholesale acquisition costs are each higher than $14,000 per year and much higher than statins.

In addition, the FDA recently approved two costly heart failure medications: sacubitril/valsartan (Entresto, Novartis), a twice-daily oral medication to treat patients with heart failure and reduced ejection fraction; and the CardioMEMS device.

The topics scheduled to be discussed on Nov. 20 include:

  • The impact of rising pharmaceutical costs
  • The balance between innovation and smarter spending
  • Patient access and the affordability of prescription drugs
  • Purchasing strategies and utilization management best practices
  • Value-based and outcomes-based pharmaceutical purchasing programs

Meanwhile, U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced on Nov. 4 they would open a bipartisan investigation into drug pricing. They requested documents and information from Valeant Pharmaceuticals, Turing Pharmaceuticals, Retrophin and Rodelis Therapeutics regarding recent increases in their medications. 

For instance, after Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired the rights to sell Daraprim, Turing increased the price from $13.50 to $750 per tablet. After getting criticized for the significant price hike, Turing announced on Nov. 3 that it would not sell Daraprim for $750 per tablet, but it didn’t announce how much it would cost.