Jan 22, 2019 - Health

Drug makers still raising prices, but seeking fewer hikes

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Data: 46brooklyn Research; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The number of price increases on brand-name drugs fell by about half from 2015 through 2018, according to data provided to Axios and compiled by 46brooklyn Research, a nonprofit firm that tracks drug prices.

Yes, but: Several companies still raised list prices frequently and at rates well above inflation, and many medications that saw higher prices had already lost patent protection or are nearing a patent expiration.

Details: 46brooklyn previously studied generic pricing trends using federal data, and has since expanded to analyze federal data on brand-name drugs. A few caveats exist with its latest dataset:

  • The firm's analysis tracked list prices, and therefore doesn't include rebates and discounts that are paid to various middlemen. The industry hides those net prices as trade secrets.
  • Many high-cost drugs, like some cancer drugs and outpatient medicines, were not included in the analysis.

By the numbers: There are records of more than 10,000 drug price increases from 2015 through January 2019. But the pace of those price increases dropped once the calendar flipped to 2017.

  • No drug company raised prices more frequently than Pfizer. The company accrued more than 2,300 price hikes over the past 4 years and was recently caught in Trump's Twitter crosshairs before ultimately deciding to go back to the status quo.
  • Pfizer also has a lot of drugs on the market. After adjusting for the number of Pfizer's products, the company had about 23 price hikes per drug over the same time span, according to our own analysis of 46brooklyn's data. Pfizer responded by referring to a November statement that said prices for 2019 were unchanged for 90% of its drugs.
  • Other large drug makers that own a lot of medications — such as Allergan, Novartis and Johnson & Johnson — similarly raised prices hundreds of times since 2015.
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb had the most price hikes per drug (81.5), as the company raised prices multiple times on every dosage of two older drugs that have generic equivalents: Coumadin and Sustiva.
  • A BMS spokesperson said the company is committed "to fair pricing practices" and that net prices have not increased by more than 5% in any of the past five years. BMS also does "not plan to take increases on our mature medicines" in 2019.
  • Two other notable companies with high rates of per-drug price increases: AbbVie (32.6) and Purdue Pharma (28). AbbVie consistently raised the price of Humira, the world's top-selling drug. Purdue increased prices of a few drugs, including OxyContin, the controversial painkiller that has been tied closely to the opioid crisis.

The big picture: Although drug companies have slowed the number of price increases on their medicines due to the political climate, the industry at large is still raising prices with regularity, and that inevitably affects patients who have high deductibles and coinsurance rates.

  • We still don't know the net price companies are paid for their drugs, but their profits haven't taken a hit.

Go deeper: Explore the data.

Go deeper

Italy reports lowest number of new coronavirus cases since February

Italy’s aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori fly over Milan in Duomo Square on May 25. Photo: Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images

The Italian government reported 300 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, the lowest daily increase since Feb. 29.

Why it matters: Italy, the first country in Europe to implement a nationwide lockdown after emerging as a hotspot in March, appears to have finally weathered its coronavirus outbreak. Italy has reported nearly 33,000 total deaths, the third-highest total behind the U.S. and U.K.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 5,453,784 — Total deaths: 345,886 — Total recoveries — 2,191,310Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 1,651,254 — Total deaths: 97,850 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: Top Boris Johnson aide defends himself after allegations he broke U.K. lockdown — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Joe Biden makes first public appearance in over two months

Photo: Oliver Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in over two months on Monday to honor Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a Delaware veterans park, AP reports.

Why it matters: Biden, the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, has taken the unprecedented step of campaigning from his home during the coronavirus pandemic, ever since canceling a rally in Cleveland on March 10.