US drug industry group launches campaign to defend pricing

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 09 September 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4902
  1. Michael McCarthy
  1. Seattle

A major drug industry group in the United States has launched a media campaign to defend pricing policies in the face of growing demand for government action to control the soaring prices of generic and brand name prescription drugs.1 2

Over the past year reports of steep price rises of many commonly used drugs such as insulin, rises of as much as 5000% for some off-patent generic drugs, and the introduction of new specialty drugs that can cost more than $100 000 (£75 000; €90 000) for a course of treatment have led to Congressional investigations and calls for legislation to curtail drug costs.

US residents pay the most in the world on drugs, spending nearly $860 per person in 2013, more than double the $400 average in other industrialized nations. The high prices have been blamed on regulations that protect US drug makers from competition and limit the negotiating power of purchasers.3

The new media campaign, called “Innovation Saves” (, launched 6 September by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, presents the current US pricing system as one that saves lives and money by stimulating innovation. The advertising features softly lit, emotive pictures of patients who have benefited from new treatments and says, “Thanks to a system that encourages reinvestment in research, advances in biopharmaceutical medicines have lessened the need for hospital stays, they are reducing the number of surgeries, and for many they are delivering cures.”

The advertisement directs viewers to a website created by the organization that features articles citing advances in the treatment of hepatitis C, HIV and AIDS, and cancer as examples of how innovative drugs are saving lives, and it argues that money spent on drugs is often more than recovered through savings because of reduced stays in hospital and other health spending.

The industry is facing intense pressure from politicians on both sides. Responding to the recent uproar over the roughly 500% rise in the price of EpiPen, a spring loaded epinephrine autoinjector used for the treatment of severe allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock, the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, said 2 September that if elected she would establish a federal panel that would evaluate whether drug prices were justified, on the basis of such factors as the cost of production and relative value to patients.

Under Clinton’s proposal the government would take steps, should prices be determined to be excessive, to bring them down by a variety of strategies, including helping alternative manufacturers to enter the market and increase competition, allow importation of cheaper versions of the drugs from countries with strong safety standards, and imposing penalties on companies that raise drug prices without justification.

Earlier this year, in a shift from his party’s traditional position against government intervention in the market, the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, said that he favored allowing the importation of drugs from abroad to bring down prices. “Congress will need the courage to step away from the special interests and do what is right for America,” he said in a statement.

In addition, both presidential candidates have proposed allowing Medicare, the federal insurance plan for elderly people and a major purchaser of drugs, to negotiate drug prices, something that is now prohibited by law.


  • Feature What Donald Trump would do with the US healthcare system doi:10.1136/bmj.i2996


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