Physicians call for fairness in drug prices, availability


In response to increasing drug costs impacting patient access to needed medications, physicians voted Monday at the 2015 Interim Meeting to convene a task force and launch an advocacy campaign to drive solutions and help make prescription drugs more affordable. Physicians also are calling for greater competition in the pharmaceutical industry and transparency in prescription drug prices and costs.

“Prescription drug spending was estimated to have increased by 12.6 percent in 2014, the highest rate of growth in the sector since 2002,” a report by the AMA Council on Medical Service said. “The pricing of prescription drugs impacts state Medicaid budgets, Medicare spending, insurance premiums and prescription drug tiers and, most importantly, patient access to these medications.”

The new policy calls for the AMA to generate an advocacy campaign to engage physicians and patients in local and national advocacy initiatives to bring attention to the rising price of prescription drugs and put forth solutions to make them more affordable for all patients.

“Physicians strive to provide the best possible care to their patients, but the boom in drug costs can impact the ability of physicians to place their patients on the best drug regimen,” AMA President Steven J. Stack, MD, said in a news release. “Patient care can be compromised and delayed when drug regimens are unaffordable and subject to coverage limitations by the patient’s health plan. In the worst-case scenario, patients entirely forego necessary treatments involving drugs due to their high cost.”

Once convened, the newly-created AMA task force will develop principles to guide AMA advocacy and grassroots efforts aimed at pharmaceutical costs and improving patient access and adherence to medically necessary prescription drug regimens. The new policy adopted today will be considered by the task force, along with existing AMA policy on the issue, as potential principles for advocacy efforts. 

Actions called for in the new policy include:

  • Support legislation to shorten the exclusivity period for biologics.
  • Encourage actions by federal regulators to limit anticompetitive behavior by pharmaceutical companies attempting to reduce competition from generic manufacturers through manipulation of patent protections and abuse of regulatory exclusivity incentives. 
  • Encourage prescription drug price and cost transparency among pharmaceutical companies, pharmacy benefit managers and health insurance companies, which will help patients, physicians and other stakeholders understand how drug manufacturers set prices, and the prescription drug tiering and cost-sharing requirements of health plans.
  • Monitor pharmaceutical company mergers and acquisitions in the pharmaceutical industry. 
  • Support a balance between incentives for innovation and efforts to reduce regulatory and statutory barriers to competition as the patent system is evaluated and potentially reformed.

Prices on generic and brand-name prescription drugs experienced a 4.7 percent spike in 2015, according to the Altarum Institute Center for Sustainable Health Spending. Last month, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report saying that the high cost of prescription drugs remains a top health care priority for the public.

Physicians also cited concerns that a growing proliferation of ads is driving demand for expensive treatments, despite the clinical effectiveness of more affordable alternatives. New policy calls for a ban on advertising directly to patients.

“Today’s vote in support of an advertising ban reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially driven promotions and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices,” AMA Board Chair-Elect Patrice A. Harris, MD, said in a news release. “Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.” 

The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. Advertising dollars spent by drug makers have increased by 30 percent in the last two years—reaching a staggering $4.5 billion, according to the market research firm Kantar Media.v