The AHA today joined a coalition of health care providers, insurers and seniors in calling for greater transparency, competition and value to rein in soaring prescription drug prices.

Among other “market-based solutions,” the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing proposed requiring drug makers to release a drug’s unit price, cost of treatment and projection on federal spending before Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval; speeding FDA approval of generic drug applications – especially for lifesaving drugs; reducing drug monopolies by incentivizing competition for additional market entrants; increasing funding for research on drug pricing and value; and requiring drug makers to compare cost and outcomes of new versus existing drugs.

Participating in a briefing in Washington, D.C., on the proposals, AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack, said they “strike a balance between preserving innovation and ensuring affordability,” noting that prices for brand name drugs have surged 127% since 2008, compared with an 11% rise in the Consumer Price Index.

When patients cannot afford to buy their medicines, “they either get readmitted to the hospital ... or they end up coming in through the emergency department,” he said.

The huge increases in prescription drug prices are “examples of a market that is not functioning properly and not serving the interests of patients or the public,” said John Rother, CSRxP executive director and president, and CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care.

And the price hikes are squeezing patients and providers, said Sameer Awsare, M.D., associate executive director for Kaiser Permanente’s medical group in Northern California. He said Kaiser’s outpatient prescription drug costs rose by $1.3 billion – a 37.5% increase – from 2012 to 2015.

During the same period, he said Kaiser saw a more than 78% increase in spending for specialty drugs. Many of these drugs are relatively new, are administered by injection and are used to treat conditions that often affect older Americans, such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

The average cost of a specialty drug is $3,000 for a 30-day supply, said Awsare. That cost “is simply not affordable for most of our patients.” And “as a health delivery system, if drugs keep taking a bigger bite out of our budget, that becomes a tough situation for us,” he added.  

“When patients can’t access drugs due to price, they and we have a problem,” said Robert Doherty, M.D., the American College of Physicians’ senior vice president.

Debra Whitman, M.D., the AARP’s chief public policy officer, cited a recent AARP survey that found about half of consumers cannot afford to fill their prescriptions. “We’re all on the hook for sky high drug prices,” she said. “Innovation that is unaffordable is meaningless.”

Drug Pricing