Today Reuters broke a story about at least 30 drugmakers that are planning to raise their U.S. prices on medicine in January 2019. The information was gathered thanks to California bill SB 17, authored by Senator Ed Hernandez, supported by CALPIRG, and signed into law last year.
Most industry analysts agree that especially in recent years, prescription drug prices in the U.S. have nothing to do with the cost of developing and producing the drugs. Instead, prices are largely based on an assessment of what the market can bear and what policymakers and the public will put up with.
The primary goal of SB 17 was to notify drug purchasers of upcoming price increases at least 60 days in advance, so that they had the opportunity to shop around for alternatives. Additionally, advocates for SB 17 wanted to better understand and shed more light on price trends overall to help policymakers develop better solutions.
We’re not surprised that a Reuters reporter requested and received some of the data through a Public Records Act request. But the uneven data provided in the request, and the drug companies’ attempts to muddy the picture by highlighting the rebates that some consumers receive, underscore the need for even more information.
The good news is that an upcoming report required of California regulators by January 1, 2019 will give consumers and policymakers a more complete picture of the top prescribed drugs, the costliest drugs by overall spending, and the drugs that have the highest price increases year over year.
We’re also looking forward to reading reports required from the drug companies themselves in 2019 to explain and justify their price hikes, just as we already require health insurance companies to explain and justify premium price hikes.
The United States is the most lucrative market in the world for drug companies. We all bear the burden of high drug prices in two ways: as consumers and also as taxpayers. The price transparency required by SB 17 we hope will help spur policymakers to enact reforms. And since Congress has tied the hands of the states to act more decisively to rein in prescription drug prices, California and the rest of the country is depending on Congress to act in 2019.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Kamala Harris, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi should lead the charge to prevent prescription drug companies from price gouging consumers.