Drug prices receive more scrutiny

Even as pharmaceutical companies develop safer and more effective drugs, the costs of those medications are becoming a concern for healthcare executives, hospitals, payers and patients.

Last July, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee sent a letter to Gilead requesting pricing information for sofosbuvir (Sovaldi), an oral hepatitis C drug that costs $1,000 per pill or $84,000 for a standard 12-week treatment period. The medication was a breakthrough in that it can cure the disease in most patients with few side effects. However, sofosbuvir is becoming a huge budgetary item for Medicare and private payers.

This summer, the FDA approvals of two proprotein convertase subtilisin kexin type 9 (PCSK9) inhibitors to lower cholesterol have received national attention because of potential costs concerns. Whereas generic statins can cost less than $50 per year, the wholesale acquisition costs of the PCSK9 inhibitors (alirocumab and evolocumab) are more than $14,000 per year. Payers and patients must now weigh whether the benefits of the new drugs offset the high costs.

Evidence is mounting that the U.S. public is perturbed at the increasing medication costs. On Aug. 20, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a poll that found 72 percent of respondents thought drug prices were unreasonable. In addition, 24 percent said they had trouble paying for their medications.

The poll also revealed that 86 percent of respondents favored requiring companies to release information on how they set their prices. Although drug manufacturers are likely to fight any such law or mandate, the spotlight on rising drug prices is sure to continue. With an added emphasis on value-based healthcare, they will face more pressure to prove that their medications are worth the premium prices and the benefits outweigh the costs.

Tim Casey
Executive Editor - Cardiovascular Business