Azar Says "All Options Are on the Table" to Bring Down Drug Prices

Following promises of halts to increases in drug prices in 2018, pharmaceutical makers began January by raising the prices of more than 250 drugs. Now, HHS Secretary Alex Azar is calling on companies to bring their list prices back down.

 
The Center for Biosimilars Staff
January 10, 2019
Following promises of halts to increases in drug prices in 2018, pharmaceutical makers began January by raising the prices of more than 250 drugs. Now, HHS Secretary Alex Azar is calling on companies to bring their list prices back down.

In an appearance on Fox Business Network, Azar said that “I want to be really clear to the pharma companies out there and to the pharmacy benefit managers: the president and I will not stop until list prices of drugs come down. This behavior has to stop. Drug prices must come down.”

Azar promised that the coming days would see the rollout of new regulatory and legislative proposals to address the issue of high drug prices, and that the administration would work with both Republicans and Democrats to solve the problem of price hikes.

“It’s an absolutely silly system that we have,” Azar said, to provide rebates to pharmacy benefit managers in exchange for keeping their drugs on formularies with a preferred status.

While he praised drug makers Merck, Gilead, and Amgen for lowering some list prices, he called for price cuts to more products. Azar said that “all options are on the table if they deliver solutions that keep patients at the center.”

To date, the options for driving down costs for US patients that HHS has put forth have not been eagerly embraced by the pharmaceutical industry. Among its proposals is the inclusion of list prices for drugs in advertising directed at patients, but the proposal was met with opposition from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). The organization has said that it does not believe that CMS has authority to issue the proposed rule under existing law, and has urged HHS to rethink the policy.

However, drug maker Eli Lilly, where Azar was once an executive, has announced that it will make its pricing information more accessible to patients. In a company statement, Lilly said that it would provide pricing information online—or via a toll-free phone number—for dulaglutide (Trulicity) beginning immediately. By the end of February 2019, said the company, pricing information for other drugs that Lilly advertises on television will have similar information available online.

“We recognize that the US healthcare system has asked Americans to pay more out-of-pocket—including for prescription medicines. So people need new tools to help them,” read Lilly’s statement.

The launch of Lilly’s online pricing information follows PhRMA October 2018 release of new direct-to-consumer marketing principles that includes directing patients to “company resources may can help them with the cost of their medicine” and pointing patients to resources “where patients can find information about the cost of the medicine…including the list price and average, estimated, or typical patient-out-of-pocket costs, or other context” about the what patients will pay.

 

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