Sanders Asks What Impact $375,000 Drug Will Have on Taxpayers

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) demanded answers Wednesday from the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services about the cost to taxpayers of Catalyst Pharmaceuticals' drug Firdapse. Catalyst recently announced an annual list price of $375,000 for the medication, which patients previously received for free from Jacobus Pharmaceutical.

"I am writing to request information regarding the price Catalyst Pharmaceuticals will charge Medicare and Medicaid for Firdapse...and the impact this price will have on patients with LEMS and taxpayers," Sanders wrote to Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, and Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. "It is abundantly clear that Catalyst expects taxpayers, primarily through Medicare and Medicaid, to foot the bill for its price gouging," 

According to Securities and Exchange Commission filings for 2018, Catalyst conducted market research and determined that "most LEMS patients have insurance coverage," including approximately "40 percent Medicare, Medicaid, [and] 10 percent dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid." 

Earlier this week in response to fear from patients that they would no longer be able to afford the life-saving medication that has been available for decades, Sanders demanded that Catalyst explain its decision to set the price of Firdapse, a drug used to treat a rare neuromuscular disease called Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS), at $375,000 per year.  

Catalyst publicly said that it will reply to Sanders’ request, but the company has not yet provided any information.

Last week, Sanders spoke via Skype with a patient impacted by the price increase, Rebecca Hovde of Wellman, Iowa, who told him about the incredible anxiety people with LEMS are living with as a result of Catalyst’s decision to increase the price. “I have friends saying that it’s too much. They know they can’t afford it. And they’re just going to go to bed when their 3,4 DAP runs out,” Hovde told Sanders. (Watch the full conversation here.)

Read Sanders' letter to HHS and CMS here.