Paying for Delay – Putting Consumers in the Crosshairs
As we discussed here last week, the U.S. Supreme Court is currently deliberating over whether pharmaceutical companies can collude to reap $3.5 billion a year in excess profits from American patients. Named FTC v. Actavis (and informally referred to as “The Androgel Case”), this case addresses whether it was legal for a brand name company to pay its generic competitor to delay generic Androgel from coming to the market. Why does this matter to you? Because the generic is up to 10 times cheaper than the brand name drug and Androgel is not the only brand name drug where a generic has been delayed. As Columbia University professor Scott Hemphill puts it, “[A] pay-for-delay settlement transfers wealth from consumers to drug makers, in the form of continued high pharmaceutical prices, with brand name firms sharing a portion of that transfer with the generic firm.”
The decision in this case would have far-reaching impact on the price of at least 140 different drugs whose costs have remained high because of such back-room deals. Since the Court heard oral arguments in the case last Monday, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and smaller newspapers such as Sonoma County’s Press Democrat have all come out in agreement with us: these payments have to stop. Why?
The financial burden of monthly out-of-pocket drug costs has forced millions of Americans without drug coverage to cut back on taking their drugs or delay other health care. Even if you have insurance, co-pays for a brand name drug whose generics have been blocked can be a significant hardship—and your insurance company pays more, too. For example, the price of the drug Provigil skyrocketed from $300 a month in 2007 to over $1,000 per month in 2010 because in 2005 and 2006, Provigil’s manufacturer, Cephalon Corp. paid $136 million to four different generic drug companies to delay generic Provigil for 6 years—while Cephalon made more than $3 billion on U.S. sales of Provigil. In response, many insurers stopped covering the drug, forcing consumers onto Cephalon’s new drug “Nuvigil,”which many consumers reported to be less effective.
Meet two patients whose lives were turned upside down by the pay-for-delay deals that kept generic Provigil off the market:
A state librarian in Fayetteville, MS, Tanna has been taking Provigil for more than ten years to treat idiopathic hypersomnia, a disease causing excessive sleep. Her son has narcolepsy, a related disease. When Tanna’s son first received his diagnosis, he was on Provigil as well, but Tanna’s insurance company forced them both to switch to Nuvigil. Neither of them could tolerate the drug and her son successfully switched to an ADHD drug for his symptoms, but Tanna has tried everything and Provigil is the only drug that works for her.
Much of Tanna’s suffering ended after she was diagnosed and prescribed Provigil. She has obtained her Master’s in Library Science and is able to work – as long as she takes her medicine.
While Tanna says Provigil has given her life back, its high price exacted a toll in return. Instead of decreasing with time, Tanna’s copay more than doubled from $35 a month in 2005 to $75 a month in 2009.
“If ten years ago, someone told me the percentage of my salary I’d be paying a month in health-related costs now, I’d say they were crazy,” Tanna said.” We’ve managed to pay our bills, but I have no savings, no safety net. We’ve done what families do – we’ve used credit cards. There’s no way I can ever think of retiring, but I always wanted to work, so I guess I’m getting my wish.”
While her doctor promised there would be a generic version of Provigil in2008, she has only seen the price reduced in the past three months (her copay is now down to $12 a month).
Tanna knows the Supreme Court decision will greatly affect everyone who relies on prescription drugs.
“If they [the drug companies] win this case then they can do whatever they want. Forever,” she said. “We’re screwed.”
Prior to Karen’s diagnosis with multiple sclerosis (MS), she barely took an aspirin. In the eight years since her diagnosis, Karen, a busy mother of three, has relied on Provigil. Unfortunately, while Provigil gives Karen the energy she needs to function, it is prohibitively expensive. A resident of Clarkston, MI, she served as a worker’s compensation administrator at a major automobile company until her MS forced her to stop working in 2005. When Karen stopped working, she had two mortgages and three young children. As she discussed with Ed Silverman on Pharmalot, between 2007 and 2010 the price Karen paid for Provigil more than doubled, from $7.26 a pill to $16.87 a pill (with her insurance company paying half). During this time, she was unable to afford her prescription in addition to her normal household expenses, either skipping doses or splitting pills to reduce costs.
In 2011, Karen had a major MS relapse. While crippled by fatigue, she was overwhelmed by the price of Provigil – she could not afford to continue paying for her medicine out-of-pocket, so she had to stop taking it, despite her doctor’s recommendation.
Since a generic version of the drug was released in October of last year, Karen has been able to take her full dose and pays only $16 every three months. The release of generic Provigil and its lower cost has enabled Karen to lead an active life, spending more time with her family, volunteering at church and even hosting a Japanese exchange student.
The Rest of Us
Drugs Likely to Have High Prices from Pay-for-Delay
Adderall XR, Aggrenox, Altace, Arthrotec, Caduet, Carbatrol, Clarinex, Comtan, Duac, Effexor XR, Eloxatin, Ethyol, Femcon Fe, Fentora, Flomax, Lamictal, Levaquin, Lexapro, Loestrin-24 Fe, Loprox, Lotrel, Lybrel, Namenda, Naprelan, Nexium, Niaspan, Niravam, Olux, Opana ER, Ortho Tri Cyclen Lo, Oxytrol, Plavix, Propecia, Razadyne, Razadyne ER, Rythmol SR, Sinemet CR, Skelaxin, Solodyn, Stalevo, Tricor 145mg, Vanos, Vfend, Wellbutrin XL (150 mg), Xopenex, and Zantac
Tanna and Karen are not alone – if you’ve paid for Androgel, Augmentin, BuSpar, Cardizem, Cipro, K-Dur, Nolvadex (tamoxifen), or Provigil, it is almost certain you’ve paid too much because of pay-for-delay deals based on records from the FTC and other lawsuits. Legal scholars and experts also suspect (the documents are secret) that pay-for-delay agreements have delayed generic versions of nearly fifty more drugs, including Lipitor, Plavix, Nexium, Zantac, Effexor XR, Lamictal Cipro, Adderall XR*, Wellbutrin XL (150 mg), Provigil*, Altace, Niaspan, Nolvadex (tamoxifen), Caduet, Zantac and many others (see full list in box).
If you have paid for one of these drugs in the last few years, you too might have been fleeced by a pay-for-delay agreement that kept a generic off the market. Please share your story with us, like Tanna and Karen did, and join them in the fight to stop these unfair deals, once and for all.
– Khadijah M. Britton, JD, Program and Policy Associate
Correction: This entry originally incorrectly identified where Tanna is from. She is from Mississippi (MS) and not Michigan (MI).