Medicines prices too high, say Americans – and pharma is to blame

More than three quarters of Americans believe prices for prescription drugs are ‘unreasonable’, according to a new survey – and most of them blame pharma.

The Kaiser Health survey found 76 per cent of those who thought prices were unreasonable blamed pharma, with just 10 per cent believing health insurance companies were to blame.

The poll is clearly bad news for pharma in the US, still by far the industry’s most important market. The last 12 months has seen criticism of pharma’s US prices continue to grow, particularly in the field of cancer and specialist areas such as hepatitis C.

One of the most notable battles has been over Gilead’s hepatitis C treatments Sovaldi and Harvoni- groundbreaking cures for the disease, but which cost $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment, or $1,000 a pill.

Steve Miller, chief medical officer at health insurance giant Express Scripts declared war on high drug prices last year, shunning Gilead’s products for lower cost rival drugs from AbbVie.

More recently, leading oncologist Leonard Saltz launched an attack on cancer drug prices at the ASCO meeting. He cited figures which show that the median monthly price for new cancer drugs in the US had more than doubled in inflation-adjusted dollars from 2010 to 2014, rising from $4,716 to around $9,900.

He said these price rises were not linked to greater efficacy of the new drugs, and raised concerns about the new immunotherapy drugs, which are likely to cost around $295,000 for a year’s treatment when used in combination.

The Kaiser Health survey was commissioned by insurance trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), which commented:

“Americans are growing increasingly frustrated by high drug prices that relentlessly drive up premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

“Despite patients’ mounting concern, pharma companies are completely oblivious to how their $1,000-a-pill price tags are affecting patients who need lifesaving treatments.”

Half of the US public say they currently take prescription medicine. Of those, most (76 per cent) say it is easy to afford their medicine, while one in five (21 per cent) say it is difficult. A quarter (25 per cent) of those currently taking prescription medicine report they or a family member have not filled a prescription in the past 12 months due to cost, and 18 per cent report cutting pills in half or skipping doses.

Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for the pharma industry association PhRMA, told CNBC that the questions in the Kaiser survey failed to provide people with enough information on which to form opinions, such as the cost drug companies incur in developing a new drug.

He also said that patients are being asked to pay an increasing share of the cost of prescription medicines, and said this trend had gone too far.

A wave of new specialist treatments are set to reach the market over the next few years, and the prices pharma will be able demand is now less certain than it was just a few years ago. The next class of high-cost drugs to hit the market are the new cholesterol treatments, the PSCK9 inhibitors. These include Amgen’s Repatha (evolocumab), recently recommended by an FDA panel. Analysts predict Repatha and its rivals are likely to cost around $10,000 for a year’s treatment.

Read the full Kaiser Health survey here

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