Why Are Generic Drug Prices Skyrocketing?

Sen. Bernie Sanders will chair a hearing next week to explore why the costs of certain generic drugs are skyrocketing.  Rep. Elijah Cummings, who has worked with Sanders on this issue, will take part in the Nov. 20 hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging. 

Price hikes for generic drugs also reportedly have come under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Justice. Subpoenas recently were issued to two generic drug makers seeking information about their interactions with competitors, The Wall Street Journal disclosed on Monday.

“We’ve got to get to the bottom of these enormous price increases,” Sanders said. “It is unacceptable that Americans pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. Generic drugs were meant to help make medications affordable for the millions of Americans who rely on prescriptions to manage their health needs and now some of them are becoming unaffordable.”

“We launched this investigation because prices for generic drugs are skyrocketing, preventing many Americans from purchasing the critical medications they need,” Cummings said. “I applaud the Department of Justice for also looking into the root causes of these huge increases, so that every American has access to the medications they need.”

Sanders, chairman of a Senate health care subcommittee, and Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, recently sent letters to executives of 14 pharmaceutical companies as part of their investigation. They cited examples of dramatic price increases for generic drugs like Digoxin, a medication used to treat congestive heart failure. It went from 11-cents a pill in October of 2012 to $1.10 a pill this past June.  The price for a bottle of antibiotic pills, Doxycycline Hyclate, shot up to $1,849 from only $20 last fall, they added. “These huge price increases are affecting the pocketbooks and health of millions of Americans,” they wrote. 

Sanders and Cummings also have called on the Obama administration to address “staggering increases” in generic drug prices. “The federal government must act immediately and aggressively to address the increasing costs of these drugs,” they wrote in an Oct. 16 letter to Sylvia Burwell, the Department of Health and Human Services secretary.