F

ile this under “What controversy?”

Last week, Pfizer increased the list prices of its medicines in the United States by an average of 8.8 percent, according to an investor note by Morgan Stanley analyst David Risinger.

This marks the second time this year that the drug maker has substantially boosted prices for its prescription drugs. Back on Jan. 1, Pfizer raised prices by an average of 10.4 percent, Risinger pointed out.

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However, he noted that these increases do not reflect any rebates or discounts. After taking those price breaks into account, in fact, Risinger estimated that the actual “net price growth” was slightly less than half of the increases in the list prices.

What is unclear, however, is how much of those rebates and discounts are then passed along by pharmacy benefit managers and health plans to their clients, which would include companies and unions, for instance. In any event, many people with health insurance are likely to see higher costs as they are asked to absorb a portion of rising prices.

The data for price hikes on Pfizer individual drugs were not included in the Morgan Stanley note, and the brokerage firm declined to provide that information. A Pfizer spokesman wrote us that, last year, the company paid about $4.6 billion in rebate to Medicare, Medicaid and commercial insurers. “Some of our most widely used medicines including Lyrica, Xalkori, Ibrance and Prevnar will not have an increase,” he added.

The Pfizer move comes amid rising controversy over prescription drug pricing.

Over the past few years, the increased cost for a variety of medicines has prompted outrage over the extent to which Americans can afford their medicines. Although the focus has largely been on newer medicines for such hard-to-treat diseases as hepatitis C and some forms of cancer, concern has also extended to some generic drugs, which have traditionally been lower-cost alternatives.

The issue exploded last year, however, after two companies — Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Turing Pharmaceuticals, which was led at the time by Martin Shkreli — were vilified for a strategy of buying medicines and then jacking up prices by sky-high percentages. Those tactics prompted congressional scrutiny and made drug pricing a talking point in the ongoing presidential campaign.

The infamous examples included a 525 percent price hike on the Nitropress heart drug, which is used by hospitals, by Valeant on the same day that it bought the medicine. And Turing boosted the price of a life-saving medicine generally used by HIV patients by roughly 5,000 percent — from $13.50 a tablet to $750 — shortly after buying the drug.

Amid the furor, many of the world’s largest drug makers have argued that their playbook is different. These companies have maintained that they do not rely on such huge price hikes to sustain growth and, importantly, funnel a notable chunk of their revenue into research and development.

Nonetheless, Pfizer is boosting prices by notable amounts on a regular basis, according to Morgan Stanley.

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On June 1, 2015, the drug maker raised list prices by an average of 8.5 percent after boosting prices by an average of 8.8 percent on Jan. 1, 2015. Back on June 1, 2014, the company raised prices by an average of 7.4 percent. As Risinger noted, the prices hikes are “consistent with historical action despite political media noise regarding US drug pricing.”

It is unclear if these price increases — which have, indeed, occurred on a regular basis — will spark any further concerns about industry practices. It is certainly true that an 8 percent or 10 percent price increase every six months is far less than a 500 percent or 1,000 percent price jump. Then again, the cumulative effect adds up – for Pfizer’s treasury and the consumer pocketbook.

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  • Strange. My Lyrica was around $50 higher at Walmart even with my Humana card this month for 90 tablets. So no increase on Lyrica?

  • Yes they did raised Lyrica price, and I can’t afford this drug. I have low income on social security, and I plan to fight them on this cost raise!

  • Why is it not obviously war? on helpless civilians? Hep C- a total cure available, record profits already extorted, 2 million dead, largest infectious killer of Americans: these legitimised warlords hold a gun to our heads and say your money or your life. I would have died of hep c- but a courageous humanitarian doctor from Australia set up a buyers club- please spread the word, a post like this can save lives like mine- look up web or fb fixhepc. Has clinical trial to back up. I am a real person, look me up.

  • Combined sales of Lyrica and Viagra run about $7 billion. The former is losing the patent challenges and faces generic erosion. The effective patent on Viagra ends in eighteen months although sales will be buttressed when the Viagra transdermal patch comes out, which convert the four hour tumescence from a side effect into a marketing hook.

  • Chutzpah on a ginormous scale. But then, they did spend huge sums to buy a candidate who will never impose price controls, and defeated the only one who will, so I am sure they feel safe in exploring the upper reaches of what the market will bear, twice a year. They must be pushing their profit margin from 97.5% into the mid-98 range by now.

    Also, rebates and discounts almost NEVER get into the hands of the end-payors and consumers. I’ve represented those classes of plaintiffs, and we prove it in case after case, drug after drug, that those discounts are a sham.

    • As distasteful as it seems without those rebates and discounts some already expensive drugs wouldbe unaffordable. I was unable to qualify for a PAP for Cosentyx so it would have cost me $45,000 out of pocket for one year. I did qualify for an alternate drug that costs a mere $5400 with the copayment assistance. I know how the system is rigged but I don’t care who the parties to the lawsuits are as long as the system is rigged to give me an outside chance to afford the drug. Being in the business I know these numbers are not pulled out of air. Price elasticity is alive and (not so) well.

  • I can no longer afford my psychiatric medication. What’s going to happen? Guess we’re gonna have to see!

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