Religious groups target rising drug prices

Patient groups, politicians, government agencies--these are the usual sources of complaints about rising drug prices. But now, some religious organizations are pushing Big Pharma to reconsider the accelerating pace of price hikes, the Wall Street Journal reports. They've put shareholder proposals for "price restraint" on the annual-meeting ballots of several drugmakers, including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Abbott Laboratories.

"More and more people can't afford this, and more and more fall back on taking either less pills or half a pill," Sister Barbara Aires, coordinator of corporate responsibility in investments for the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, told the WSJ. The order's ballot proposals say the drugmakers haven't "made a clear case offering fiscal and moral justification for such exorbitant price increases" and ask the companies to limit increases to the rate of inflation.

The order is one member of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, and other members have also sponsored pricing proposals. But some shareholders might not be so amenable to limiting price increases, the WSJ points out: They want financial results, and sometimes those results depend on higher prices. The companies themselves say they raise prices for a variety of business reasons, and that pricing power is essential to preserving innovation. And the drugmakers do offer financial assistance to patients who can't pay full price.

Still, the nuns have a point: Price increases for top-selling drugs have hit the highest levels in 10 years, and a recent study found that as many as one-fifth of patients don't fill their prescriptions because they can't afford the drugs. Plenty of others stretch their drug supplies by taking lower doses or skipping doses altogether. Research has found that patients are most likely to abandon prescriptions for the most expensive drugs.

- read the WSJ piece