The amount of money people spend on prescription drugs has nearly doubled over the past three decades as pharmaceutical sales and profit margins have ballooned, according to a government report. Retail prescription drug expenses accounted for about 12% of total U.S. healthcare spending in 2015, up from about 7% through the 1990s. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology sales revenue increased from $534 billion to $775 billion between 2006 and 2015, according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. About two-thirds of drug companies saw their profit margins increase over that period, averaging 17.1%. (Kacik, 12/28) The Washington Post: Pharma, Under Attack For Drug Prices, Started An Industry War Stat: 3 Trends To Watch In Pharma Advertising In 2018 The New York Times: Think You’re Seeing More Drug Ads On TV? You Are, And Here’s Why It’s not easy to get Americans mad at a behind-the-scenes industry they’ve barely even heard of, but pharmaceutical companies have spent most of this year trying. “Who decides what you pay for your medicines? Not who you might think,” a concerned woman’s voice says in a radio spot airing in the District last month. “More than one-third of the list price of a medicine is rebated back to middlemen, like insurers and pharmacy benefit managers.” (Johnson, 1/2) Swelling of legs, hands and feet; capillary leak syndrome; fever; muscle pain; unusual bruising; dizziness, blurry vision; rash; hives; blisters; nervous system and blood disorders; lymphoma; swollen tongue; dry mouth; weight gain; inability to fight infections; nausea, diarrhea; constipation; depression; dehydration; suicidal thoughts. Oh, and death. (Kaufman, 12/24) Detroit Free Press: Prescription Drug Prices Kept Rising In 2017, But Scrutiny Did Help The Wall Street Journal: Cancer Drug Price Rises 1,400% With No Generic To Challenge It The Associated Press: Kmart To Pay $32.3 Million To Settle Prescription Drugs Case We are still losing the battle to contain fast-rising drug prices in Michigan and across the country, but increased scrutiny of pricey pharmaceuticals led to some minor victories in 2017 for more affordable health care, according to several of Michigan’s larger insurers. Prices for many popular branded drugs that made big jumps in recent years, such as insulin and rheumatoid arthritis treatments, experienced more modest increases in 2017 — although increases were still well above the general inflation rate of around 2%. (Reindl, 1/1) Modern Healthcare: Drug Prices Rise As Pharma Profit Soars Average annual price increases have declined at least four years in a row for 20 of America’s top-selling brand-name prescription drugs, according to a STAT analysis of data from Truven Health Analytics, an IBM Watson business. The data suggest that public and political outrage over the high cost of vital medicines may be swaying corporate strategies. Price growth was especially low in 2017 — perhaps due, in part, to peer pressure, as several top pharma companies have made public pledges to limit price hikes. (Robbins, 12/27) As the number of manufacturers producing a generic drug increases, the costs of these drugs fall, a recent study suggests. Chintan V. Dave, PharmD, PhD, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues reported their findings in a correspondence to the editor published online December 27 in the New England Journal of Medicine. “With 1.9 billion prescription claims, the number of manufacturers of the generic drug was strongly associated with relative price,” the authors write. (Parry, 12/28) The Star Tribune: Do State’s Inmates Have A Right To Get Drug That Can Cost $100K? Stat: Several Drug Makers Just Raised Their Prices By Nearly 10 Percent, And Buyers Expect More Price Hikes One new drug promises to stop cancer from spreading to other organs. Another would treat blood cancer. A third would use the body’s immune system to kill tumors. All three show encouraging results, and need just one more step to be approved for use in the United States. The drugs have something else in common: They were created in China. (Wee, 1/3) Several drug makers celebrated the new year with substantial single-digit price hikes, while a new survey indicated that prices for brand-name medicines are expected to rise 3 percent to 4 percent annually over the next three years. Leading the way among drug makers was Allergan (AGN), which boosted the list prices for 18 medicines by 9.5 percent, a level that allowed the company to stick to its controversial pledge to avoid double-digit price hikes. That move was made as part of a so-called social contract issued more than a year ago amid mounting anger over the cost of medicines. Only a few other drug makers formally agreed to follow suit. (Silverman, 1/2) Pharma’s Strategy In Dealing With Anger Over High Prices: Point Fingers At Someone Else News outlets report on stories related to pharmaceutical pricing. These are boom times for the multibillion-dollar drug advertising industry — and the parade of ads across your TV screen shows no sign of slowing down in 2018. But while the money keeps flowing, there are changes afoot: New strategies and channels are commanding more investment, raising fresh regulatory questions. (Robbins, 12/27) Kmart Corp. has agreed to pay $32.3 million to settle allegations its pharmacies caused federal health programs to overpay for prescription drugs by not telling the government about discounted prices.The U.S. Department of Justice announced the settlement agreement Friday.Kmart is part of Sears Holdings Corp., based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. It was sued in 2008 by former Kmart pharmacist James Garbe, who worked in Defiance, Ohio. (12/23) The New York Times: Made In China: New And Potentially Lifesaving Drugs Medscape: Decreasing Market Competition Driving Up Generic Drug Costs Five prison inmates infected with hepatitis C are seeking class-action status for a lawsuit that would require the Minnesota Department of Corrections to offer a class of groundbreaking, but extremely expensive, new drugs. The medications, known as “direct acting antiviral” (DAA) drugs, can have a 95 percent cure rate, but they can cost anywhere from $26,400 to well above $100,000 per patient. (Montemayor, 1/1) Since 2013, the price of a 40-year-old, off-patent cancer drug in the U.S. has risen 1,400%, putting the life-extending medicine out of reach for some patients. Introduced in 1976 to treat brain tumors and Hodgkin lymphoma, lomustine has no generic competition, giving seller NextSource Biotechnology LLC significant pricing power. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is seeking to encourage more competition for drugs like lomustine, one of at least 319 drugs for which U.S. patents have expired but which have no generic copies, according to a list the agency published earlier this month. (Loftus, 12/25) Stat: Price Hikes On Top-Selling Drugs Were A Lot Smaller This Year, Stat Finds This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. 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