Lawmakers, medical officials fighting pharmaceutical price spikes

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HARTFORD–Former CEO Martin Shkreli grabbed headlines this year–and the label of “Most Hated Man in America”–after he bought rights to the drug Daraprim and spiked the price from $13 to $750 a pill.

The drug is used to help ward off and treat infections that can rise from the HIV virus.

Shkreli said the reason for massive price increase was for research and development but to many it drew attention to an extreme form of greed that’s not so uncommon.

“Pharmaceutical drug costs are rising astronomically,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal during a roundtable discussion at Hartford Hospital Tuesday.

A panel gathered to address what can and should be done to combat spiraling drug costs.

Americans spent $300 billion on prescription drugs in 2014. That represents a 12 percent increase from the previous year, which is higher than the rate of inflation. Families are spending an average of $570 dollars a year.

“There’s been a disconnect between the value of new medications and the cost of the medications,” said Dr. Peter Schauer, Hartford Hospital’s director of the division of medical oncology.

Doctors at the panel said they are concerned about the trend. The director of pharmacy, Dr. Mike Rubino, even gave examples of the price differences they are seeing.

“There are drugs that are generic injectables that have gone up 300, 400 and 500 percent,” said Rubino.

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo buys healthcare for about 200,000 people–state employees, retirees, and their families. Over the last few years, he’s seen the pharmaceutical part of their plan sky rocket to a point he says is irrational and unsustainable.

“Overall we’re seeing about a 17 percent growth on our pharmacy side,” said Lembo.

Lembo says the state’s hands are for the most part tied, and points to a need for federal action.

Blumenthal agrees and says the ballooning costs are because of lax enforcement and “unvarnished greed.”

“Many of the companies are so big and have monopolies and have misused their monopolistic power,” said Blumenthal.

Blumenthal believes this can be countered with stronger enforcement of our anti-trust laws. He also wants greater disclosure from companies saying there is a lack of transparency about the rising costs. He plans to introduce more legislation in relation to the issue this session in Washington.