Valeant ups drug discounts, but congressional critic isn't impressed

Elijah Cummings
(photo courtesy of Rep. Elijah Cummings)

Valeant Pharmaceuticals says it’s going to make good on its promise to discount the sky-high prices on its heart drugs Nitropress and Isuprel--but only after The New York Times pointed out last week that those discounts were, so far, missing in action.

The “enhanced discounts” come as incoming CEO Joseph Papa tries to point Valeant toward a fresh start--and toward recovery in the company’s stock price, which has plummeted since the company started facing big questions about its operations last summer. 

After coming under fire for hiking the prices on those drugs by 525% and 212% last year, Valeant promised a congressional committee that it would back away from those increases. Some top hospitals, the purported beneficiary of the promised discounts, told the NYT last week that they hadn’t seen any price cuts. Hospital pharmacists said the conditions Valeant placed on those discounts meant few qualified--and some only rated discounts of 1 cent off the drugs’ list prices.

Now, Valeant says it will offer discounts of at least 10% and as much as 40%, based on volume.

"Under this new program, the discounts we previously implemented for Nitropress and Isuprel will be simplified and more accessible," Papa said in statement. "I understand the concerns our partners in the health care community have had about the pricing of these drugs, and we want to ensure hospitals and patients can get the drugs they need.

But U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who’s been dogging pharma on drug prices for more than a year as ranking member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, pointed out Monday that those discounts don’t make much of a dent in prices that had tripled and quintupled last year.

“This is a small step in the right direction, but it comes nowhere close to fully addressing this critical problem,” Cummings said in a statement. “A year ago, Valeant increased prices on these same two drugs by 525% and 212%, so slightly trimming their massive price increases now still forces our nation’s hospitals to pay millions of dollars more each year.”

Last week, the Senate Special Committee on Aging released more than 800 pages of documents collected in the process of investigating Valeant. The release followed an April 27 public hearing featuring the company’s now-former CEO, who apologized for taking a too-aggressive approach to price hikes.

Those documents added more details to a portrayal of Valeant as excessively concerned with profits at the expense of patients--and as Cummings notes in his statement, of taxpayers who help foot the bill for the newly pricey Nitropress and Isuprel, as well as other meds that Valeant steadily increased in price.

As part of Valeant’s “new start,” the company set up a “patient access and pricing committee” earlier this month to review the company’s pricing. Papa himself will chair the committee, at least at first, and said in Valeant’s announcement that the company had “made mistakes” in pricing in the past, and promised to make sure those mistakes wouldn’t be repeated.

In Valeant's own release about the new discounts on Monday, Papa took a conciliatory tone, particularly toward the congressional committees that have been probing Valeant’s operations. He thanked the Senate and House panels “for the attention they have brought to this issue, and specifically to gaps they identified in the previous program," Papa continued. "We are committed to getting this right.”

- see the Valeant release

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