As drug companies boost the prices of everything from insulin to tablets for erectile dysfunction, a national Tegna Media investigation reveals more and more drug company cash is finding its way into the hands and pockets of the very same doctors patients rely on to help them with their medical conditions.
The TEGNA Media investigative team spent months compiling a list of 100 prescription drugs, both brand name and generics, that have seen price increase over the past four years of anywhere between 70 and 12,000 percent.
According to an analysis of information on openpaymentsdata.cms.gov, a federally-run website devoted to tracking pharmaceutical company giveaways to doctors, eight major players in prescription drug manufacturing have nearly tripled the amount of cash and goods they hand out to American physicians.
In 2013, those eight companies handed out $64.1 million in cash and goods to doctors across the country. By 2015, the total amount had ballooned to $177.8 million.
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These contributions come in the form of cash payment, often a consulting fee or compensation for being a guest speaker. Doctors also reported millions of “in-kind” donations for food, beverage and travel.
The giveaways don’t necessarily mean doctors are over-prescribing certain drugs, but medical ethicists worry what even the appearance of a conflict of interest could mean in the medical field.
“The quid pro quo is always a possibility, even if I don’t know it or perceive it,” said Dr. Matt Wynia, the director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado. “It’s just human nature.”
And that’s not the only concern we raised as we looked into the large sums of cash making their way from pharmaceutical companies to television stations, Congress, and expensive marketing campaigns.
In 2013, the same eight companies that handed out millions to doctors spent $1.36 billion on national television ads, according to data supplied by Kantar Media. By 2015, the payments had gone up to 1.86 billion. In three years, those companies had spent nearly $5 billion trying to get you “to talk to your doctor” about their drugs.
“Outrage over price increases of the life-saving EpiPen that jumped up 600 percent since 2007 prompted investigators at TEGNA Media TV stations to research other drugs with skyrocketing prices. Our investigative team spent months compiling a list of 100 prescription drugs, both brand name and generics, that have seen price increase over the past four years of anywhere between 70 and 12,000 percent.
The average price increase of the drugs on the TEGNA Media list is 400 percent. Our investigators chose drugs that have been around for years, that treat a variety of diseases and many of which are life-saving medications. We used federal data compiled by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, called the National Average Drug Acquisition Cost (NADAC), to compile the list. More than half of the drugs on the list were FDA approved before 2002. At least a quarter of the drugs on our 100 list have been on the market for more than 25 years.”