The big story, the one that made news directors perk up their ears, made congressmen call hearings, and made jaws drop across the country was the story about a 62 year-old drug - a senior citizen of a drug - called Daraprim that overnight went from $13.50 a tablet to $750 a tablet. A 5000% increase for no other reason than a company called Turing Pharmaceuticals bought the drug and raised the price because it could. The drug is used to treat malaria, HIV, and other infections.
Overnight the story of the cost surges in drugs was no longer about new drugs, but about all drugs, even old ones. A long known problem with drug pricing practices had coalesced around a single action.
The murky world of drug pricing lacks transparency and according to Congressman Lloyd Doggett it lacks many elements of what make up a free market.
"The problem is we don't have a free market, we have a monopoly market," says Doggett. "What we need is more competition and more information for consumers."
The congressman has launched a task force to investigate the high prices, something that the U.S. Senate has also done. These kinds of investigations can often shed some light how decisions are made and how an industry is run.
Congressional investigations and hearings are nothing new to the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, 50 years ago a Kentucky Democrat named Estes Kefauver held several hearings that had incredible impact says Medical historian Jeremy Greene
"It was really an amazing and eye-opening investigation. He used the power of the subpoena to bring executives of pharmaceutical companies as well as the head of the AMA and FDA and the U.S. patent and trademark office into the congressional hearings," says Greene. "Previously obscure pricing and marketing practices of the industry became visible to the American people to then act upon"
What can we do today to reign in drug costs?
- Rep. Lloyd Doggett, U.S. Congressman from Texas' 35th district
- Leigh Purvis, Director of Health Services Research at AARP
- Katie Verb, Associate Director of Policy & Government Relations for the Hemophilia Federation of America
- Dr. Jeremy Greene, Associate Professor of Medicine and the History of Medicine
- Stephen W. Schondelmeyer, Head of the Department of Pharmaceutical Care and Health Systems at the University of Minnesota.