What public outcry? New year brings dozens of double-digit drug price hikes

All eyes may be on rising drug costs, but that doesn't mean pharma companies are backing away from price hikes. In recent days, analysts have spotlighted hundreds of increases, more than 100 of them at Pfizer ($PFE) alone, that took effect January 1.

And now, the market researchers at Truveris have another update: Branded prescription drug prices went up 14.5% last year overall. Pricey specialty drugs went up by 9.2%. The company's price index covers private insurers, self-insured groups, government programs and uninsured patients.

The increases were on par with those seen in 2014, Truveris says, showing that the price hikes highlighted last year weren't isolated occurrences. In fact, 2015 was the third year in a row with double-digit price increases.

"These new figures underscore growing concerns about the increasingly prohibitive costs of prescription medications--a matter that prompted extensive debate in 2015," Truveris co-founder AJ Loiacono said in a release. "Even as pressures mount, the trend of rising costs shows no signs of stopping."

According to Deutsche Bank analysts, Pfizer boosted the list prices of dozens of meds, by 10.6% on average, with the largest increase for Quelicin, an anesthesia med; it went up by 42%. UBS quoted 20% increases on a variety of meds, including the anticonvulsant Dilantin and the angina drug Nitrostat. But perhaps the bigger impact comes from some Pfizer increases smaller in percentage terms, but bigger in dollars: The blockbuster pain med Lyrica went up by 9.4% and the erectile dysfunction mainstay Viagra went up by 12.9%, while the newly introduced--and expensive--breast cancer drug Ibrance saw a 5% increase.

Deutsche Bank highlighted increases on Allergan ($AGN) drugs, which will join Pfizer's stable with the companies' $150 billion merger later this year. Its dry-eye med Restasis, Allergan's second-biggest seller, went up by 9.9%, while its blockbuster Botox took a 3.8% increase. The analysts also tagged a 25% hike for Endo's ($ENDP) painkiller Percocet this month, following previous increases of 25% and 30% the past two years.

Piper Jaffray says Vanda Pharmaceuticals jacked up the price of Hetlioz, its new sleep-wake disorder treatment, by 10%, putting its price at a level 76% higher than it was at launch in 2014. Raymond James analysts disclosed an 8% price increase on Amgen's ($AMGN) Enbrel last month, after an 8% increase in September and a 10% increase in May.

In a statement to Reuters, Pfizer emphasized that the increases affect list prices, and don't include rebates and discounts given to insurers and government programs. In a CBS Moneywatch story, the company pointed out that it had expanded its drug-assistance program by increasing income eligibility to twice the U.S. poverty level.

For some analysts, the fact that prices continue to go up despite a public outcry--not to mention political pushback, in the form of congressional hearings and price-control proposals--shows just how resilient the U.S. market can be. "There's still pricing power," Jefferies analyst David Steinberg told The Wall Street Journal. "Unlike other countries, there's no mechanism whereby regulatory authorities can control price."

- read the release from Truveris
- see the Reuters article
- get more from the WSJ
- check out the Moneywatch piece

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