Did J&J and BMS conspire on blood thinner price hikes? Congressional leaders want DOJ, FTC to look into it: report

When Johnson & Johnson’s Xarelto entered the market in 2011 and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Eliquis did the same in 2013, list prices for the popular blood thinners were $218 and $250, respectively, for a monthly supply.  

But by January of this year, those prices had mushroomed to $516 for Xarelto and $529 for Eliquis. As a result, Medicare Part D has spent more than $46 billion on the drugs since 2015, according to a report (PDF) from Patients for Affordable Drugs.

Should this happen in a supposedly competitive market? That’s the question two congressional Democrats are asking this week, Stat reports.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, who heads up antitrust enforcement on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Katie Porter, D-California, a member of the House oversight committee, are asking officials at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to probe whether the price hikes were done illegally and in concert.

“We are principally concerned that the prices for these products, which are close substitutes for each other, have been raised in lockstep in a manner that seems coordinated to maintain pricing parity,” the congressional leaders wrote in a letter (PDF) obtained by Stat. “The general lack of competitive behavior exhibited by these drug sellers raises concerns regarding potential unlawful conduct.”

In 2020, Medicare spent $9.9 billion on Eliquis and $4.7 billion on Xarelto, making them the first and third most costly drugs for the system, the congresswomen pointed out.

In 2021, Eliquis was the world’s fifth best-selling drug at $16.7 billion, while Xarelto ranked No. 12 in global sales at $7.5 billion.

“The prices for these two competing products have risen every year since they entered the market at a rate far outpacing inflation, without any meaningful improvements to the medications or any apparent increase in production costs,” the congresswomen wrote.

A BMS spokesperson said the company and its partner Pfizer price the drug “based on the value it delivers.” BMS doesn't make pricing decisions based on the "actions of other companies" and its Eliquis price hikes have been “consistent with the rate of increase in U.S. health care expenditures," the spokesperson added.

After much bluster over drug prices following the election of president Joe Biden, little has been accomplished to address them—including in Congress.

A compromise was reached in November which would have allowed Medicare to negotiate lower prices for the 10 drugs on which it spends the most. There also would be a cap for what seniors pay per month for prescriptions. But neither initiative appears likely to be enacted after months of budget negotiations.

A J&J spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a Fierce Pharma request for comment.