Drug Pricing Still Big News

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The man who kicked off the media firestorm around drug pricing this fall, Martin Shkreli, angered and insulted Congress yesterday during his testimony on the issue. At the same time Trump entered the fray saying he would drop Medicare drug prices, and the Virginia legislature postponed a vote on their drug pricing bill.

According to a new poll released in August by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, medication costs are now the public’s main health care concern and politicians are paying attention.

Shkreli takes the Fifth in front of Congress

Infuriating members of Congress, a smirking Martin Shkreli took the Fifth Amendment four times, protecting himself against self incrimination, at a Capitol Hill hearing Thursday. Shkreli was being asked about his company’s decision to buy Daraprim, the only approved drug for a rare and sometimes deadly parasitic infection, and unapologetically raising its price more than fiftyfold.

Lawmakers, furious at his refusal to cooperate, or even take the matter seriously, all but told Shkreli to wipe the smile off his face. Shkreli was dismissed less than an hour into the hearing, and minutes after he left he tweeted, “Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government.”

Shkreli’s departure left Turing’s chief commercial officer, Nancy Retzlaff, currently the interim CEO of Canada’s largest drugmaker, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, to take a bipartisan lashing from the lawmakers.

Internal documents released by the committee show that Valeant and Turing have made a practice of buying and then dramatically raising prices for low-cost drugs given to patients with life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, AIDS and cancer. Retzlaff tried to defend the company’s decisions, saying they needs those funds to be able to invest in research and development, as well as programs that help patients afford drugs, but emails from Shekreli gloating about profits told a different story.

Trump gets into drug pricing debate 

From New Hampshire, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump joined Clinton and Sanders in taking on drug pricing and vowed to renegotiate the prices Medicare pays for drugs, arguing that pharmaceutical companies had been let off the hook by policymakers in thrall of their campaign contributions.

Trump, who touts his negotiating prowess as a qualification for the White House, suggested that hundreds of billions of dollars could be saved in the Medicare drug budget through tough bargaining. However, to be able to follow through Trump would likely have to convince Congress to grant him the authority to do so. Medicare is at present barred by law from negotiating lower prescription prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers. In the past bills have been introduced to allow the government to negotiate for Medicare Part D prescription plans, but thus far none have gained traction in Congress.

Virginia Vote on Pharmaceutical Costs Postponed

Legislation to make drug makers reveal how much they spend marketing high-priced drugs has stalled in the Virginia General Assembly, at least for this year, with Senators saying the bill wasn’t ready to be considered.

Virginia is the latest battleground state in which drug companies and health insurers are pitching a multi-million dollar battle over expensive specialty prescription drugs.

Insurers were hoping to capitalize on the public’s concern with legislation that would require pharmaceuticals to publish the cost of developing, manufacturing, and marketing drugs that cost $10,000 or more for a single course of treatment. Backers of the bill, which included some business groups, said more transparency about drug prices would help deter bad actors in the pharmaceutical business from unfairly raising prices.

Drug makers pushed back against the bill, saying it unfairly singled out pharmaceuticals for rising health care costs and would inhibit Virginia’s efforts at growing its bio-tech industry.

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