Community requests for price freezes to strengthen affordable access to life-saving treatments go ignored
The Fair Pricing Coalition (FPC) today expressed its dismay and frustration at manufacturers of some of the most frequently prescribed antiretrovirals for treatment of HIV, citing exorbitant Wholesale Acquisition Cost (WAC) price increases ushered in with the new year. The WAC price increases implemented by these industry leaders show complete disregard for an annual FPC year-end appeal calling for a two-year price freeze, with several companies setting 2015 prices that far exceed the typical rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
“The FPC firmly believes that upwardly spiraling drug prices are already at the upper limit of any conceivable justification, are unsustainable, and will continue to hinder patient access to life-saving HIV treatment and prevention options, as well as recently approved curative hepatitis C virus (HCV) regimens,” said FPC Co-Chair Lynda Dee. “We made this point, plainly and clearly, to executives at the major pharmaceutical companies again in 2014, yet we are once more looking at WAC increases that are generally between 7 and 10 percent over last year’s already indefensible prices.”
Though the January 2015 CPIs—measures of inflation—have not yet been announced, the 2015 WAC price increases for leading antiretrovirals are two to three times higher than the ten-year CPI average of 2.5 percent; they are also higher than all medical CPI categories, which average 2 to 3 percent and are driven in part by unrestrained drug pricing.
“Several companies are, once again, guilty of unsubstantiated price gouging, with Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) being the most egregious example,” said FPC Co-Chair Murray Penner. “Despite that BMS was recently granted a reprieve on the anticipated 2014 loss of patent exclusivity for Sustiva, allowing it to reap an additional two years of exclusivity on U.S. sales of the drug, the company decided that this windfall occasioned by endless patent evergreening was not enough, and increased the 2015 WAC for Sustiva by nearly 10 percent—the largest price increase reported thus far this year. And this followed two 2014 increases, totaling 16.7 percent, contributing to a total price increase of approximately 150% since the drug was approved in 1998.”
Starting January 1, the annual WAC price for Sustiva (efavirenz) increased from $9,352 to $10,260. Importantly, this price increase directly impacts the WAC of the efavirenz-containing single-tablet regimen Atripla, which is now $25,874 per year, compared with $24,965 at the end of 2014. The 2015 Atripla annual WAC is also more than 85% higher than its 2006 launch price of approximately $13,800 per year.
Other notable WAC price increases reported on January 1 include Janssen Therapeutics’ Prezista (darunavir), Intelence (etravirine), and Edurant (rilpivirine) (7.9% each); a 6.9% increase in the WAC price for Merck’s Isentress (raltegravir), and a 7.9% increase in the WAC price for BMS’s Reyataz (atazanavir). WAC price increases for ViiV Healthcare’s HIV drug products are anticipated during the first quarter of 2015. AbbVie is not expected to increase the price on its drug products, at least not this quarter.
Shielded by claims of legal proscriptions, the companies notify FPC and the general public of price increases only after they have already been decided. As there is rarely an opportunity for comment or other public input into these price determinations, the FPC submitted letters to all of the major HIV drug manufacturers in December 2014, demanding a price freeze or, if absolutely necessary, no more than one price increase annually (some antiretroviral prices have been raised twice in one year), not to exceed the overall increase in the medical CPI for the preceding year. Letters also reiterated the need for more robust company patient savings programs to offset skyrocketing out-of-pocket (OOP) costs associated with these expensive medications being placed in specialty drug tiers.
“We commend many companies for complying with our requests for more generous assistance programs to help cushion the blow associated with exorbitant OOP costs, but we have been unambiguous in noting that ever-increasing drug prices only encourage payers to place all HIV and HCV medications in specialty tiers, and raise cost sharing requirements, and establish even more draconian prior authorization restrictions,” explained Dee. “Our demands that major HIV companies refrain from compounding the average consumer’s economic hardship and inflating prices beyond the brink of what health care delivery under the Affordable Care Act can reasonably bear have been ignored. The time has come to inform and mobilize the public regarding the pharmaceutical industry’s reluctance to heed reasonable requests regarding its unjustified pricing policies.”