Inhalers cost how much?!

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Inhalers Cost How Much?!

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In the United States, the cost of healthcare, particularly prescription drugs, has been a topic of heated debate and concern for a long time now. This week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) stoked the fire once again by launching an investigation into the pricing strategies of four major pharmaceutical companies: AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and Teva. 

Why an investigation now? The focus is on a striking disparity: inhalers that cost only $7 in France are priced at a staggering $489 in the U.S. (READ MORE)

That’s right. $7 in France—$489 here in the U.S. Ugh. Why?

Senators Bernie Sanders, Tammy Baldwin, Ed Markey, and Ben Ray Luján are spearheading the investigation, seeking internal documents from these companies to uncover potential price manipulation.

Inhalers are a lifeline for the 25 million Americans living with asthma. Yet, the exorbitant prices in the U.S. compared to other countries suggest a possible exploitation of these patients for profit. 

In response to the committee’s letter, Boehringer Ingelheim stated that they offer significant discounts on their inhaler products. However, critics claim these discounts rarely benefit the patient directly. GSK has expressed its willingness to cooperate with the HELP Committee, while AstraZeneca and Teva have yet to respond.

One primary reason for the high cost in the U.S. is our patent laws, which allow drug companies to maintain control over their inhaler patents for decades. This monopoly prevents the development of a competitive generic drug market, keeping prices artificially high.

But solving the problem isn’t so simple. The intricate web of drug pricing in the U.S.  involves pharmacy benefit managers, insurers, employers, and regulators, making it challenging to identify a single culprit. 

The consequences of these high costs are dire: approximately 3,500 US adults die annually from asthma-related illnesses, with a disproportionately higher rate among Black Americans. The financial burden of asthma treatment is a significant barrier, as shown by a 2017 AAFA survey where the top three reasons for missing treatment were cost-related (READ MORE).

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The HELP Committee's recent actions against insulin producers provide a glimmer of hope. Their pressure led to Eli Lilly slashing insulin prices by 70%, followed by a similar move by Novo Nordisk. The committee's focus on asthma medicines could lead to similar outcomes, offering relief to millions of Americans.

The key takeaway? The investigation into the pricing of inhalers by major pharmaceutical companies is more than a matter of economics; it's a matter of life and death for many. With proper treatment, asthma can be a manageable condition. Still, the prohibitive cost of essential medications like inhalers remains a significant barrier to effective management and equitable healthcare. 

Let’s hope the HELP Committee's actions pave the way for much-needed reform in drug pricing, bringing hope to millions of Americans who depend on these lifesaving medications.

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