Amid still-raging EpiPen scandal, Clinton rolls out plan to fight drug price hikes

Hillary Clinton at a Human Rights Campaign event. (photo by Gage Skidmore courtesy of Flickr.com)

Pharma execs now have more reason to worry about their pricing power. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton unveiled a slew of new proposals Friday, aiming to control price hikes on older meds.

Pointing to now-notorious price increases from Turing Pharmaceuticals and Mylan, Clinton proposed a drug price oversight group to ensure patient access to lifesaving drugs. The group would scour for “outlier” price increases, accounting for a treatment's production costs and its value to patients.

If the panel identifies an “excessive, outlier price increase,” Clinton proposes enforcement tools that include fines on offending drugmakers, emergency importation of newly pricey products, and measures aimed at increasing competition.

“We need to move beyond talking about these price hikes to acting to address them,” Clinton’s statement read.

The oversight group would also keep an eye on the “troubling trend” of drugmakers buying old meds and then jacking up the prices.

Turing and Mylan aren’t alone in their sizable price hikes on old meds, of course. Nearly 400 generic drugs saw their prices jump more than 1,000% between 2008 and 2015, according to the Clinton campaign. Newer drugs have also seen steady price increases that, over time, have hiked their costs significantly.

Anyone with an eye on pharma won’t see Clinton's proposals as a surprise. The presidential candidate tweeted about Turing’s “outrageous” price hikes on the toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim, back when then-CEO Martin Shkreli was the pharma villain du jour.

Clinton also chimed in during Mylan's EpiPen episode, joining a host of lawmakers demanding more information about a med that's grown in price by more than 400% since 2009.

And in a March campaign ad, she targeted Valeant Pharmaceuticals for its “predatory” pricing. That ad featured the story of a woman who started receiving a migraine treatment in the 1980s that cost $18 per shot. It's now $1,473, she said.

Clinton's new proposals add to her broader plan to tackle sky-high drug costs. The candidate wants to end DTC advertising subsidies, promote more R&D from companies that benefit from taxpayer money, cap out-of-pocket costs for patients and allow Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices, among other policies.

That last point has been proposed by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who crossed a party line to back Medicare price-negotiating powers.

While each candidate has suggestions, Congress would be the ultimate arbiter of a U.S. drug pricing overhaul. Clinton may be seen as a bigger threat to pharma, given her repeated involvement in pricing controversies, but Pfizer CEO Ian Read, for one, isn't sure.

Asked which candidate would better favor pharma's interest, Read said in June that he couldn't "at this moment distinguish between the policies that Donald Trump may support or those that Hillary Clinton may support,” according to The Intercept.

“I’m sort of more focused really on understanding where the House control is going to be and where the Senate control is going to be,” Read said at a conference, as quoted by The Intercept. That's in line with a previous statement to Evercore ISI analyst Mark Schoenebaum; Read told the analyst that Clinton's proposals for cracking down on drug pricing weren't likely to pass muster in Congress.

Regardless of who wins, Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez only sees pricing pressure increasing after the election. 

“We believe that, no matter which candidate wins, we will see a more difficult pricing environment in the U.S.,” Jimenez told the Financial Times.

- here's Clinton's newest plan

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