Valeant's discounts on jacked-up heart meds? Still missing, hospitals say

Back in April, Valeant pledged before Congress to offer hospitals discounts of up to 30% on Isuprel and Nitropress, the drugs whose price hikes made the company the face of pharma’s “price gouging” scandal. In May, some of the nation’s top users of those meds were still awaiting their discounts. And now? That hasn’t changed, a new report says.

Of 13 top U.S. hospital systems and purchasing groups that responded to a Bloomberg query, only one large hospital system and one purchasing group said they were receiving discounts on the pair of heart meds. The other 11? They hadn’t seen any savings yet whatsoever.

Some of the hospitals had dubbed Valeant’s contract offers undesirable, while seemed not to know they needed to negotiate with Valeant to snag the discounts--rather than receiving them automatically.

Ascension Health, for one, didn’t sign a contract with Valeant because it didn’t vow to maintain the lower prices on the products, Roy Guharoy, Ascension’s chief pharmacy officer, told Bloomberg. Purchasing group Vizient was unhappy with the drugmaker’s initial offers--which a spokeswoman said “did not adequately meet the needs of the member providers we represent”--but is now working to finalize purchasing contracts with Valeant after some back-and-forth.

Then there were those that said they hadn’t been able to reach the embattled pharma. “Despite their promises to Congress, we’ve seen no reduction in cost nor any improvement in communication,” Cleveland Clinic chief pharmacy officer Scott Knoer told Bloomberg, noting that his organization has made several unreturned calls to the drugmaker.

As Valeant CEO Joseph Papa recently told Wells Fargo analyst David Maris, the company has provided an average discount in the mid-teens to customers who use Isuprel and Nitropress, meds that saw their prices soar by 525% and 212%, respectively, after Valeant last year picked them up from Marathon Pharmaceuticals.

And discounts are up for grabs for everyone, he told Bloomberg, suggesting hospitals may not have seen them yet because of a supply chain issue.

“We have taken the concerns of the healthcare community very seriously and we are committed to working with hospital groups,” he said in a statement seen by the news service, noting that “Valeant Customer Service is unaware of any inbound inquiries by phone or e-mail that have yet to receive a response.”

Taking those concerns seriously is certainly in Valeant’s best interest as it works to rebound from a brutal year that’s included channel-stuffing allegations, debt default worries and multiple investigations on top of the political pricing pushback. And that’s what execs promised to do when they told Congress at a hearing that they’d work to cut prices on the jacked-up drugs.

Papa, who took the helm in early May, swore to stand by the access plans in an effort to redeem the pummeled company’s image. In early May, he became the leader of a brand new Patient Access and Pricing Committee, set up to look specifically at Nitropress and Isuprel, as well as fellow products Cuprimine and Syprine, whose prices had also been raised.

“Valeant has made mistakes in how it priced its drugs in the past, and we are committed to ensuring those mistakes are not repeated,” Papa said in a statement at the time. “This new committee will take a disciplined approach to reviewing the company’s pricing of drugs, and will consider the impact on patients, doctors and our health care industry partners.”

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