Clinton advocates for consumer oversight board to control ‘unjustified’ drug price hikes

31 January 2017 9:55am

2nd September 2016. By Leah Nylen & Richard Vanderford

In response to furor over rising prices for EpiPen allergy shots, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has proposed creating a consumer oversight board made up of officials from the federal public health and competition agencies that would have the ability to order importation or impose fines for “unjustified price increases” on life-saving treatments.

Mylan Pharmaceuticals has courted controversy with price increases on the EpiPen, which the company bought from the Merck Group in 2007. Since then, its cost has risen by more than 400 percent, leading to investigations in Congress and a stream of negative press that hasn’t abated despite the company’s decision to offer a generic version of the drug. One satirical video game, EpiPen Tycoon, even lets players take the role of Mylan CEO Heather Bresch, jacking up prices on the drug while patients drop dead outside the company headquarters.

In a fact sheet released by her campaign Friday, Clinton said the proposed consumer oversight group would establish criteria for unjustified increases and consider enforcement actions when prices on life-saving or critical treatments are hiked in cases with “limited or no competition among manufacturers.”

Although Clinton didn’t indicate which agencies would belong to the group, the US Federal Trade Commission, which enforces both competition and consumer protection law and has taken a key interest in pharmaceutical pricing issues, would likely be involved. In order to go into effect, Clinton’s plan would require legislation and buy-in from Congress.

That might not be difficult to come by. Last month, a group of senators urged the FTC to investigate Mylan for antitrust violations following a dramatic increase in the price of EpiPen packs.

A spokesman for the FTC said the agency is closely scrutinizing drug industry competition (see here).  The agency, however, has little or no authority to intervene in cases where pharmaceutical companies have simply raised prices on their products.

The FTC is investigating Turing Pharmaceuticals over its restrictive distribution of the drug Daraprim, not its pricing, although the company raised prices from $13.50 per tablet to more than $750 each.

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