Drug Price Reporting Reaches New Low

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  • 02/03/2016
Apparently the quality of journalism – if it can be called that – about the cost of medicines has not hit bottom.

Two new lows were hit by Robert Langreth (with Rebecca Spalding) at Bloomberg and  USA Today's Jane O’Donnell. 

Langreth and Spalding wrote a predictably predictable article on the eve of Martin Shkreli’s no show congressional flogging.   Predictable and derivative since it recycled the same stuff written by other low achieving reporters.  The headline says it all: Shkreli Was Right: Everyone's Hiking Drug Prices.

So I will respond by recycling a previous blog on a ‘me-too’ pricing article in noting that Langreth fails to put drug price increases (net price or otherwise) into perspective.  Langreth states that U.S. prescription-drug spending rose 12.2% in 2014, accelerating from 2.4% growth in 2013. But “price increases for protected brands increased spending by $26.3 billion, contributing 8.2% to total market growth on an invoice price basis; estimated net price growth was substantially lower as rising off-invoice discounts and rebates offset incremental price growth and reduced net price contribution to growth to 3.1%.” 

That’s an increase in spending of about $7.1 billion.  Total US health care spending increased by $100 billion from 2013-2014.  So brand drugs were 7 percent of that amount. 

O’ Donnell takes reporting on drug prices to a new low in "Patient groups funded by drugmakers are largely mum on high drug prices"  She accuses patient groups that receive support from biotech firms from blocking efforts to impose price controls.  The headline is the tipoff.   To be more precise, she let’s Zeke Emanuel do the smearing.  If you want a job done well, hire a pro:

"It is worrisome because it is a conflict of interest even if you can’t prove it changes their position," says Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist and professor who chairs the University of Pennsylvania's department of medical ethics and health policy. "The patient voice carries a disproportionate amount of weight."

So if someone alleges it changes your position, that’s a conflict of interest.  

By that standard, the patient groups she cites as conflict free should also be suspected of conflict. More specifically, the Patient Voice Institute works with the Leapfrog Group which also gets money from large employers, health purchasing groups and AARP.   All three are quoted in the article.   But applying Zeke’s conflict benchmark, the fact that I can’t prove any connection means it is a conflict. 

The j’accuse of getting funding from corporations is a diversion.  O’Donnell, like many of her colleagues fail to look at the cost of new drugs relative to what insurance companies spend.  It’s about 3 percent.  And that spending makes treating illness less expensive by reducing hospitalization, saves lives and improves quality of life.  

The question O’Donnell ignores is the one the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society answered about a year ago:  How much would it really cost to pay for the drugs insurers scream are too expensive? 

They commissioned a Milliman study and found that it would cost on average about 50 cents per patient per month.  If drugs were driving up overall costs (as opposed to reducing them, which they do) why such a small increase to make people whole?

O’Donnell had the opportunity and column space to look at this issue.  Instead she went down a darker, more deceptive road.   What a shame.  Then again, it's not surprising.  

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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