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Readers Respond

Drugs require price controls

I am writing in response to Ian Duncan's article regarding the Maryland General Assembly passing a bill aimed at drug "price gouging" ("Maryland General Assembly passes bill aimed at drug 'price gouging,'" April 10).

Prescription drug pricing in America is a complex and multifaceted process that involves pharmaceutical companies, wholesalers, retail pharmacies, insurers and patients themselves, to name a few key players. However, this article focuses on one core component of this complex system: pharmaceutical companies.

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Pharmaceutical companies are private, capitalistic entities whose main priority is to increase profits and their percentage of the market. Their primary responsibility is to their shareholders and not to the American public.

Patents on medication are reported as necessary protection on intellectual property to encourage pharmaceutical companies to continue with their research and development of innovative drugs and to keep the pharmaceutical company itself from going bankrupt. Most pharmaceutical companies report that most of their expenses can be attributed to research and development and that prices of medication reflect a need to not only recoup their capital spent on developing that specific medication but to balance the books on medication that did not make it to market.

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But what happens when the research being done is not by the privatized pharmaceutical company itself, but instead by state-funded research facilities that then hand over their research to pharmaceutical companies for further development and production? Patents allow pharmaceutical companies to maintain a monopoly on certain medications and thus allow them to control the price without competition, resulting in higher priced medication. This is done without consideration to whether the initial research was publicly or privately funded. Additionally, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly finding ways to maintain market exclusivity and keep an increased price on the medication. Some ways of obtaining this is through extension of their patents by additional studies or slight modifications to renew patent approval. Most medication prices decrease by 80 percent when it goes off patent as there is increased generic market competition.

What about instances where older medications experience significant price increases seemingly without any new research or development being done at all? Most recently Mylan caused outrage by increasing the cost of the Epipen used to treat allergic reactions by over 500 percent, but this is not a lone incident in the pharmaceutical industry. Instances of what appears to be price gouging have happened before: Turning Pharmaceuticals raising the price of Daraprim used to treat toxoplasmosis encephalitis by over 5,000 percent from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill or Marathon Pharmaceuticals charging $89,000 for Emflaza, a medication used to treat Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy. That involved an increase of 6,000 percent. These price increases are passed onto the patient, the insurance companies and in the case of government-funded coverage such as Medicaid and Medicare — U.S. taxpayers.

Cases of what seem like incredible price hikes have happened before and unless prohibited by law, will surely happen again and with increased frequency. I find it necessary to enforce pricing caps on increases in medication costs and find a bill aimed at preventing price gouging to be necessary at this time. It is a way to safeguard the American public from being taken advantage of in the name of profit. I am not saying prices should not be allowed to fluctuate once set but the increases should be justifiable and within a reasonable percentage of the initial cost. Currently, research and development costs taken on by pharmaceutical companies do not explain elevated drug prices. Transparency in the costs taken on by the pharmaceutical companies would allow a better justification in medication pricing and increases. Until that time, preventative measures should be put in place to safeguard against what appears to be instances of price gouging on prescription medications.

Alison Grant, Toms River, N.J.


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