WASHINGTON — The recent spate of price increases for prescription drugs got more attention Monday as a Minnesota lawmaker called for new policies to combat rising drug prices in the pharmaceutical industry.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, at the Center for American Progress (CAP) Action Fund, focused on EpiPen, an allergy treatment medication from Mylan N.V. The cost of the device has risen nearly 500 percent since 2007, according to Klobuchar. Just last week Heather Bresch, CEO of the pharmaceutical giant, testified before a House committee concerning the recent price increase of the allergy treatment.
“The recent outrage surrounding the huge price increase on EpiPen is just the latest in a long list,” Klobuchar said. “Prescription drugs increased by more than 12 percent in spending in 2014. In 2013, there was only a 2.4 percent increase.”
The pricing decisions of pharmaceutical companies came under scrutiny about a year ago when Turing Pharmaceuticals, led by then-CEO Martin Shkreli, acquired the manufacturing license for Daraprim, a drug often used to help medicate individuals with HIV. The firm then raised the price of the drug overnight to $750 from $13.50, a raise of over five thousand percent.
Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, said the panel’s role is to make sure the playing field is even between companies and consumers and “right now, the playing field isn’t even.”
One of Klobuchar’s plans for dealing with the situation is winning approval for a bill she cosponsored that’s designed to make it easier for generic drugs to reach the market. The CREATES Act, introduced last summer, would end any delay tactics used by drug manufacturers to block the competition from off-brand drugs, Klobuchar said.
Her cosponsors include a fellow Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and two Republicans, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.
According to Conn Carroll, communications director for Sen. Lee, there is a loophole in existing law where brand-name drug companies can limit the amount of a sample that generic drug companies can obtain. That makes it harder to develop a generic version.
“[This bill] is an attempt to make drugs more affordable,” he said. “The problem is with drug companies abusing the regulatory process to keep generic drugs out.”
In a statement in June, Grassley told the antitrust committee, “[The bill] does provide for a faster, less complex, avenue to get lower cost, safe generic drugs on the market as soon as possible.”
Klobuchar also spoke of the need for better regulation to avoid misclassification of drugs which can lead to much more expensive out-of-pocket expenses for consumers.
“People are going to have to be held accountable for these price increases,” Klobuchar said. “I don’t know any other way to do it. Things are completely off-balance and off-kilter and it’s the American people who are suffering because of it.”