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Recent studies provide new evidence to battle drug price increases

All three of the standard-of-care (SOC) medications analyzed by the researchers saw at least an 8 percent decrease in administration of the medication after price hikes. Two of the SOC medications saw at least a 50 percent decrease in administration after price hikes.

Two recent studies led by University of Minnesota Medical School researchers add to the existing body of knowledge about how medication price hikes influence individuals and the total cost of health care in the United States.

The first research, which was published today in JAMA Network Open, adds to the understanding of how substantial rises in anti-infective medication costs impacted the overall cost of outpatient health care while also limiting patient access to effective pharmacological therapy.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evaluated the study methodology and screened more than 100 million de-identified patient data between 2010 and 2018 to discover about 89,000 instances of interest.
The findings revealed that:

  • A standard-of-care (SOC) medication to treat hookworm increased from $32.77 to $1,660, resulting in a drop from 43 percent to 28 percent of individuals getting an appropriate treatment.
  • The price of a SOC medicine to treat pinworm went from from $14.81 to $130, resulting in a drop from 81 percent to 28 percent of patients receiving the proper medication.
  • A SOC medication to treat Clostridioides difficile (a control with little price change) remained mainly steady, rising from $53 to $68, corresponding to a rise in patients receiving a suitable treatment from 69 percent to 77 percent.

“Our study shows that dramatic drug price increases lead to much higher outpatient costs and decrease appropriate drug treatment due to access issues and health care professionals switching to a substandard drug,” said co-first author of the study, William Stauffer, MD, MSPH, FASTMH, who is a professor of medicine at the U of M Medical School. “More studies need to be done to confirm these findings, but this should increase policymakers attention as they consider solutions to extreme drug pricing.”

The second paper looked at what has been done so far in state legislatures to address the issue. The study, which was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, looked at all state legislation adopted since 2015 to address medication price hikes, as well as state proposals up for consideration in 2020, and identified many flaws. Two suggestions are made by the study:

  • The most prevalent kind of legislative action were transparency laws; however, many of the transparency measures being discussed in 2020 don’t mandate disclosure until after price hikes have occurred, often up to a year later.
    The research suggests that price hikes be announced in advance so that vulnerable individuals have time to explore other treatment alternatives.
  • Only 22% of states with affordability review bills mention OPOE (off-patent, off-exclusivity) brand-name medications, which are less expensive than patent-protected brand-name drugs and more susceptible to price rises, as this team’s 2020 analysis shows. According to the report, separate review thresholds for OPOE pharmaceuticals should be established to guarantee that they are not misclassified as brand-name pharmaceuticals, which have higher price increase thresholds.

“Prescription drug price increases inflate national health spending and are disproportionately felt by patients who are uninsured or have high deductibles,” said Arman Shahriar, a U of M Medical School student and first author of the study. “Despite prescription drug price increases being a known problem for years, little has been done at the federal level, and states have not been unified in their approach. We want to make state lawmakers aware of the current landscape and future directions of this legislation.”

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