It may be a new year, but an old tradition is playing out in the pharma world—the price-hiking tradition, that is.
Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer, Gilead Sciences and other companies started the year by raising list prices on more than 400 branded medicines by an average of 5.1%, GoodRx reports. Among the drugs with higher prices are Pfizer and BMS’ Eliquis, Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly’s Jardiance, Gilead’s Truvada, GlaxoSmithKline’s Flovent and Pfizer’s Chantix.
Aside from GoodRx's list of meds, Biogen raised prices on several multiple sclerosis drugs in single-digit percentages, Piper Jaffray analyst Christopher Raymond wrote in a note to clients. And AbbVie hiked Humira’s price by 7.4%, he said.
While the price hikes are “consistent with established patterns in terms of timing and magnitude,” they're notable because of heightened scrutiny on the industry's pricing practices, the analyst wrote.
Despite threats from lawmakers and the Trump administration—and years of debate on pricing—"drug pricing mechanisms and economics that have attracted so much negative attention in recent years remain very much intact,” he added.
So that’s why, while it’s a new year, it’s a familiar story for pharma watchers. For years, drugmakers have implemented January price hikes, though increased scrutiny has prompted some to limit increases to once per year at single-digit percentages.
For comparison, drugmakers raised prices on 486 branded meds in January 2019 at an average of 5.2%, according to GoodRx. In 2018, drugmakers hiked prices on 580 meds by an average of 8%. More price hikes could come yet this month; last year, a first wave of hikes was followed by others later in the month.
A BMS spokesperson said the company plans to limit 2020 price increases to 6% for drugs with ongoing clinical research and patient assistance programs. The drugmaker isn't increasing prices on mature brands this year.
Effective Jan. 1, Pfizer raised prices on about 27% of its portfolio by an average of 5.6%, a spokeswoman said. For sterile injectables, which made up 43% of company's price increases, the majority of hikes came to less than $1 per unit, she said. The company expects the higher list prices to be offset by higher rebates and discounts to payers and pharma middlemen.
For its part, Gilead raised HIV drug list prices by 4.9% to "reflect the rising costs of goods and services necessary to produce groundbreaking medicine," a spokesman said. The company doesn't anticipate that the changes will affect patient access, and Gilead further supports access programs for HIV prevention and treatment options, he added.
Pharma’s price hikes and high U.S. prices have been a hot issue for years, and 2019 featured plenty of debate and developments on that front. At the end of the year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s aggressive proposal passed the House of Representatives, but many experts don’t believe it’ll score any other victories. President Donald Trump has pledged to fight high prices, and his administration is currently exploring importation and an international pricing index. Lawmakers in the Senate have other proposals pending as well.
With that backdrop, drug pricing will be top of mind heading into this year’s elections, and pharma companies will be prepared to defend themselves in the key market.