The Alliance

The Weekly Dose | 03.15.19

March 18, 2019 1:36 pm

Capitol Hill will be quiet next week with lawmakers back in their respective states and districts for recess. We hope two data points revealed in the past week will sink in. First, according to federal government data, the cost of prescription drugs over the past year fell 1.2 percent, the largest 12-month drop in 47 years. Additionally a new poll revealed Americans’ support for drug price intervention drops significantly if innovation is threatened. These indicators rarely make the headlines, but they should.


The debate over drug pricing will continue when lawmakers return, with the leaders of five pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) headed to the Senate side in April. Have questions about how PBMs affect the price of medication? Need more info for a story? Email us. We look forward to working with you.



Patrick O’Connor – Executive Director

Rosemarie Calabro Tully – Communications Director




  - March 13: A cure for Hepatitis C--that's a gift to humanity. Hepatitis C didn't have a name when I was a resident in 1977-78. ... Now, we have a cure! That's a great result. We need to balance the availability of medicines that will be affordable. -@michaelcburgess #drugprices #SubHealth

 - March 12: Medical #innovation is only possible through investors' funding. With arbitrarily set #pricecontrols that make returns seem unlikely, this funding is "almost certain to go elsewhere, and the innovation pipeline [closes]." @KennethThorpe @MorningConsult

 - March 12: “Fortunately for me, and for the millions of people like me with rare diseases, advancements in research over the past 30-plus years, many of them from the biopharma industry, offer not just hope but extra years of life.” via @jeantw62 in @statnews



 A Look At Recent Polling. When featuring a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, news headlines generally focused on a single question that indicated Americans support various proposals to regulate drug prices. But even in this survey, which was clearly designed to illicit that response, it’s evident Americans’ opinions are more nuanced. Read the full blog post here.


In case you missed them, here are some other recent posts on the APMI blog:

 - As Evidence Mounts, President Acknowledges Drug Prices Falling

 - Headlines Overstate Drug Pricing Data

 - There’s More to Health Care Spending Than Drug Costs… Much More



FACT: Drug Prices Are Falling. MarketWatch reported this week, “The government on Tuesday said prescription prices sank 1 percent in February, marking the biggest one-month decline ever. What’s more, the cost of prescription drugs over the past year have dropped by 1.2 percent. That’s the biggest 12-month decline since 1972.”

Patient Benefit Managers Will Answer Questions. Patient Benefit Managers have been called to testify on Capitol Hill. As CNBC reports, “Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the committee's ranking member, asked Cigna, CVS, Humana, OptumRx and Prime Therapeutics to testify on Capitol Hill. Both senators have been critical of PBMs, sometimes referred to as middlemen, which negotiate drug benefits with manufacturers for insurance plans and employers.” In related (and welcome) news: STAT News reports UnitedHealth Group plans to require employers that hire its OptumRx pharmacy benefit manager to pass rebates to patients.

Secondary Patents: More To Think About. The UChicago News examines how researchers are turning to “old” drugs to find new cures for triple negative breast cancer. Could these treatments be the recipients of future secondary patents? We’ll see. In the meantime, learn more about what secondary patents are.   

Hospitals, Insurers Fight Price Transparency. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Hospitals and insurers are gearing up to battle a Trump administration plan that could require the public disclosure of negotiated prices for medical services, part of an effort to lower U.S. health-care costs. Patient advocates have largely cheered the idea, saying consumers should be able to price shop before they pick a doctor or undergo treatment. But industry groups are attacking the administration’s legal authority to mandate price disclosure.”

Innovation Nation: Another Approval For Drug To Treat Triple Negative Breast Cancer. STAT News reports, “Roche’s cancer immunotherapy Tecentriq … scored its fifth Food and Drug Administration approval on Friday, for advanced triple-negative breast cancer, but the fifth was a first: Before this decision, no immunotherapies had been approved for any form of breast cancer.”

How Is The United States Different From Other Countries? We Have Better Access To Vital Treatments. In discussing why federal lawmakers shouldn’t allow prescription drug importation, in The Bulletin Oregon pharmacist James Netland notes, “Canadians only have access to about 50 percent of the new medicines that Americans enjoy. That number falls to just 33 percent for Australians.”  



Dr. Kenneth E. Thorpe, professor of health policy at Emory University and chairman of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, writing in Morning Consult:

“[E]lected officials are pursuing the politically popular avenue of controlling drug prices — even, in the Massachusetts case, exploring criminal prosecution as a lever. If they continue to pursue this direction, they need to be honest with their constituents that lowering costs in this manner will bring about a whole different set of societal costs in terms of patients not treated and diseases uncured. We deserve to be asked if that’s a price we wish to pay.”


Sandip Shah, founder and president of Market Access Solutions, writing in Utah’s Independent:

“Capping the price of drugs would make it much harder for companies to recoup their investments. Firms would lose the incentive to develop new cures, and patients would suffer as a result.”