Congressmen Want Info About MS Drug Price Hikes, but Why?

Congressmen Want Info About MS Drug Price Hikes, but Why?

MS_Wire_Ed_Tobias
MS drug manufacturers in the sights of two members of Congress

The companies are Bayer, Biogen, EMD Serono, Novartis, Sanofi Genzyme, Teva, and Roche.

U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings and Peter Welch, two Democrats who sit on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, are concerned about what they’re calling dramatic price increases for some MS drugs produced by those companies. In a news release, the congressmen say the price hikes have come “without warning, cause, or justification.”

They’ve sent letters to the companies seeking information about their profits and expenses. The letters also ask for documents about pricing strategies, patient assistance programs, and drug distribution systems.

Is this ‘shadow pricing?’

Cummings and Welch point to an American Academy of Neurology study of drug prices as evidence that some pharmaceutical companies appear to be increasing the prices of their older, less expensive drugs to bring those prices in line with those of the newer, more expensive DMTs that are available today. This kind of practice is known as “shadow pricing.”

The congressmen refer to this study as being a bit dated, as it was published in May of 2015. It reviews the published prices of nine DMTs over a 20-year period, ending in 2013, and shows that prices for those older, first-generation DMTs increased at an annual rate that was five to seven times higher than general prescription drug inflation.

In their news release, the lawmakers also referred to a report from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society that included a chart of drug price increases since the approval date for each drug.

Drug price chart

What prompted this investigation?

I applaud the effort of these congressmen to try to hold the line on MS drug prices. I suspect, however, that little will come of this information request, other than to provide some publicity for Cummings and Welch, and to make the pharmaceutical companies aware that their price hikes haven’t gone unnoticed.

But I have to wonder what prompted the pair to focus on MS drugs. It’s no surprise that there are also some very high prices being charged for new drugs that are being used to treat other diseases. Why single out MS drugs?

Call me a skeptic, but could it be that this happened because a woman named Donna Edwards revealed a few weeks ago that she has MS? Edwards is a former member of Congress, and she worked closely with Cummings on Capitol Hill. Both represented congressional districts in Maryland. Did Cummings’ former colleague encourage him to take this action? I’m glad that he did, but I can’t help being curious about his motivation.

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7 comments

  1. CHRISTOPHER PARIS says:

    Yes. The same old story, your observations fly with great credibility. Every cause seems to require some influential ‘Esther’ on the inside track, or nothing has any opportunity of happening toward any progressive well-being, at all. It’s sad, you know? — we continue to be summarily extorted while desperately waiting.

  2. Liza says:

    If the congress people have a family with this problem MS then will realize they can do same thing for the prices l, sad lifestyle is so lucrative, shameful for all companies they are rich with our own pain.

  3. BELINDA J. MATTOS says:

    Ed, I also surmised that the actions of Congressmen Cummings and Welch derived from the plight of former Congresswoman Edwards. However, as an activist for the National MS Society, I applaud their efforts to hold the feet of the pharmaceutical companies to the fire. Yes, this is just a small effort; however, it will at least increase awareness of not only MS, but the struggles of many Americans to pay for needed drugs. As you know, there is legislation floating to require drug companies to report certain increases in drug pricing to the HHS, who will make the information available to the public (the FAIR Act). This is also a small step, but a step in the right direction nonetheless. Quite frankly, i think the US (possibly through HHS) should negotiate drug prices, as we pay more that Canada, the UK, and other countries for the same drugs. So, if Congresswoman Edwards situation prompted this action by Congressmen Cummings and Welch, so be it. At least these are two congressmen actually WORKING and trying to get something positive accomplished.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hello Belinda,

      I, too, applaud the efforts of Reps. Cummings and Welch. I also applaud Donna Edwards, for stepping forward on this subject. Anything that brings the high cost of drugs, and of healthcare in general, to the attention of our lawmakers should be commended.

      I guess I’m a bit jaded when it comes to what happens on Capitol Hill. During my years in DC I’ve seen a lot of letters written by Members of Congress. Most seem to accomplish little more than a brief PR hit for their authors.
      I hope that this one will be productive and it would be great if it helps to move us in the direction of negotiated drug prices.

      I have more faith, however, in the efforts of MS activists such as yourself. You’re the ones who are doing the heavy lifting.

      Thanks for that.

      Ed

      Ed

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