HOLLYWOOD, FL - AUGUST 24:  In this photo illustration, EpiPen, which dispenses epinephrine through an injection mechanism for people with severe allergies, is seen as the company that makes it Mylan Inc. has come under fire from consumers and lawmakers for the price that it is currently charging on August 16, 2016 in Hollywood, Florida.  Reports indicate that the cost of a pair of EpiPens has risen 400 percent from when the Mylan acquired the original company in 2007.  (Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Life-saving drugs are getting more expensive
02:01 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Some experts' reactions to high-cost drugs are at odds with a growing public outrage over price

The vast majority of patient groups accept industry funding

CNN  — 

Two new drugs were cleared to hit the market last week: an eczema drug that will cost $37,000 per year and one for multiple sclerosis that will cost $65,000.

The drugs drew both praise and criticism for their five-digit price tags.

Researchers and patient organizations applauded the prices, which were cheaper than similar drugs on the market. They hoped the prices would please insurers and make the drugs more widely available.

“We encourage other companies to follow suit, creating a drug pricing trend that keeps patients first,” said Cyndi Zagieboylo, president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, in a statement about the multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus.

But the following day, a group of lawmakers introduced legislation to crack down on high drug prices, reflecting a growing public outrage over the cost of medicines.

“No one should have to choose between affording a lifesaving drug and putting food on the table,” said Sen. Al Franken, one of the lawmakers, speaking to the Senate on Thursday.

Users on social media also weighed in.

The public is becoming increasingly aware of soaring drug prices; a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll in October revealed that tackling high drug costs was the top health care priority for Americans leading up to election day. Rising deductibles and out-of-pocket payments could also mean that patients themselves are seeing more of these costs.

“The root of (the public’s negative opinion) is that there’s a huge problem that’s getting worse,” said Peter Maybarduk, who runs the Access to Medicines program for watchdog group Public Citizen. “But added on to that, you have scandals and … political leaders pointing out the changes that need to happen.”

The past few years have seen a number of high-profile price increases.

Pharmaceutical company Mylan upped the price of its EpiPen at least 15 times since 2009. Under “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli, the price of a drug called Daraprim surged 5,000%.

Meanwhile, lowering drug prices and health care spending became a major presidential campaign promise across party lines last year, and the failure to address it may have added to the recent public disapproval of the American Health Care Act.

“That was a big part of the election cycle,” Maybarduk said. “But I do feel it’s an area where pain and public opinion are driving the candidates.”

A conflict of interest?

The president of the National Eczema Association, Julie Block, said the new drug Dupixent “appears to be priced on the lower end of the cost of biologic therapies.” Her response mirrors that of multiple sclerosis advocate Zagieboylo.

But comparing drugs that are already on the market is a poor way of determining what’s fair, Maybarduk said.

“The other drugs on the market are sold under monopoly conditions,” he said, referring to tactics and policies that discourage price negotiation and prevent competition. “The entire architecture of the market is wacky.”

According to some advocates, $65,000 may also seem cheaper due to a conflict of interest.