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Major drug companies are lobbying Congress to reduce the $4 billion increase in costs due to raising the discount for seniors purchasing drugs at the ‘donut hole’ level in Medicare Part D to 70 % from 50 %. The provisions for an increase in the discount was included in a spending bill passed by Congress last February.
Pharma companies and major corporations with billions of dollars stashed overseas said that if tax rates were cut on dollars transferred to the U.S they would raise wages, increase R & D spending and reduce prices. Most companies did not deliver on their promises or benefits to patients either. Instead, they increased the size of their stock buybacks by 4 to 5 times in the case of the largest stock buyback company, Amgen.
Only two of the top ten companies actually reduced share buy backs since January of this year. Corporations overall are expected to complete over $1 trillion of stock buy backs by December 31st Goldman Sachs estimates.
Over a dozen Democratic members of the House ofRepresentatives sent letters to five top pharma companies with data showing new increases in drug prices while increasing share buy backs. The drug industry responded that they were reducing prices, increasing R & D spending and raising employee wages. Merck, CEO, Kenneth Frazier said in a reply, “We view the legislation (tax cut) as providing us with more flexibility to deploy capital in support of our strategy to invent new medicines that address key unmet medical needs, ultimately benefiting patients.” The reality is that prices for the most popular drugs are still going up.
AbbVie raised the price of Humira by 9.7 % in January the Democrats pointed out in their letter to the firm. Inflation for this past year is 2.4 % that drug increase is nearly 4 times the rate of overall consumer price increases in the U.S. economy. AbbVie sent a reply to the Congressmen outlining many programs using their tax cut funds including: a $1000 salary increase to non-executive employees, plans to invest $2.5 billion in capital projects in the U.S. over the next five years, $100 million healthcare and housing for people in Puerto Rico, an $100 million to the Ronald McDonald House to fund lodging for pediatric cancer patients and their families.
Drug costs hit seniors particularly hard because they need the medication, and they are on fixed incomes. Drug companies have to do better by ending what the SEC called, “stock price manipulation”, before the Safe Harbor policy in 1982 allowed stock buybacks. Billions of dollars are wasted to goose the price of stocks to benefit executives and big investors. Investors are misled by earnings reports using fewer stock shares to compute earnings per share, often used to assess company performance. Patients are hurt by price increases, Humira costs patients $50,000 per year for the standard treatment if they have no insurance coverage. Stock buybacks by pharma companies must stop, the price gouging of patients and insurers needs to end.
Another economy that drug companies should adopt is to end direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. Over 150 countries do not allow prescription drug advertising, only the U.S. and New Zealand allow advertising directly to patients to create “pull” sales from patients requesting a drug from their doctor. According to Kantar media, drug manufacturers spent $6 billion on direct to consumer television advertising in 2017, a 64 % jump from 2012. The billions being spent on DTC advertising are better spent on reducing drug prices. We applaud the moves by AbbVie in raising employee salaries, donations to Puerto Rico and Ronald McDonald house, these are excellent steps. Many drug firms have foundations that offer patients with low incomes a way to obtain their medicines for free or little cost. The difficult aspect of most of these drug-for-free programs is they require large volumes of paper work, with major time delays when the patient needs to the drug immediately. Drug company executives need to see the light on what is happening, the price gravy train and waste of stock buyback funds gleaned from patients needs to end. Why wait for legislation? We appeal to CEOs – make the right moves now. See that taking responsibility for solving the cost crisis you have created will be far better for your firm, patients and insurers. You may get a solution you don’t want if you wait for Congress to pass legislation.