Drug supplies, costs hurt by unintended consequences of COVID-19 policies, suppliers tell White House

In an unusual display of coordinated frankness for the industry, a coalition representing generic drug makers, insurers, pharmacies and benefit managers told Vice President Mike Pence and congressional leaders that some policies in place or under consideration to fight COVID-19 are making it difficult and more expensive for patients to get some drugs. 

Among other concerns, the group lamented (PDF) that the reduction in air service may be pushing up drug prices by making air shipments more expensive and that the “Buy America” executive order reportedly under consideration by the White House would immediately raise prices for consumers who get their drugs through federal programs. 

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“As you consider how best to respond to this unprecedented crisis, it is critical that the U.S. Government not take steps that may have an unintended impact on the supply of pharmaceuticals in the United States,” the letter says. 

The groups also called on federal officials to create clinical guidelines for doctors in prescribing drugs that are identified as potential treatments for COVID-19 so “that patients who have been on therapies for FDA-approved indications prior to the spread of COVID-19 still have appropriate access, as well as those with COVID-19.” 

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Some patients who take hydroxychloroquine for lupus have reported difficulties filling prescriptions after President Donald Trump trumpeted in briefings that it might be a treatment that was already approved and readily available. It has been used in China to treat some COVID-19 patients to uncertain effect. 

Some generic drug makers have pledged to manufacture and donate millions of the pills if the drug is found to be effective, but a shortage of the drug in the U.S. has been exacerbated by doctors now prescribing it for COVID-19 patients and in some cases to themselves and their families as a preventive measure. 

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“As drugs are identified as potential treatments for COVID-19, the demand may outstrip the supply. As a nation, it is imperative we balance the need to find drugs that may be helpful to treat COVID-19 while still making them reasonably available to patients who currently rely on them for established treatment."

Signers of the letter are the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Association for Accessible Medicines, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Association of Specialty Pharmacy, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. 

In addition to Pence, who is heading COVID-19 operations for the administration, it was sent to Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer as well as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.