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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Drug prices are a big deal politically because they’re a big deal personally. Time after time, the issue is thrust back into the spotlight by virtue of giant price increases on drugs that aren’t new or innovative, but are still life-savers for millions of people.

It happened when “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli bought Daraprim, a drug to treat AIDS, and raised the price by 5,000%. It happened when Mylan raised the price of the Epi-Pen by about 500% over 6 years. It has been happening for years with insulin, where prices keep creeping higher, adding up to increases of more than 200% for some products.

The tradeoff between costs and benefits still matters for new drugs, too. New leading-edge treatments, like immunotherapy for cancer, offer lifesaving promise that almost any family would want but few can afford.

  • The debate is more complicated with new drugs, though, because we know their development costs are still on the books.
  • That’s why big price hikes on old drugs, that people have depended on for decades, spark particularly fierce outrage.

"It's really one of my greatest fears," Clayton McCook, who has to meet a $3,000 annual deductible to cover medication and supplies for his diabetic 10-year-old daughter, recently told Axios. "If insulin is $300 a vial now, what's it going to look like in 20 years when she's on her own?"

A version of that scenario is already a reality for Nicole Smith-Holt. She lost her son Alec, 26, to diabetic ketoacidosis shortly after he began rationing insulin. Alec died less than a month after he was no longer eligible for his mother’s insurance plan. He was facing costs of $1,300 per month.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.