Tried and True Low-Cost Drugs no Longer So Low-Cost

Example: The price for the muscle relaxant methocarbamol jumped by 1,137% in 2018.

The prices for many of what have traditionally been cheaper, generic drugs soared recently, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Drugmakers argue that the price increases reflect recalls and supply shortages. For instance, the blood pressure medication valsartan has been subject to recalls after the FDA found a possible cancer-causing impurity in shipments from the China-based supplier Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical. That forced millions of bottles or cartons of valsartan to be recalled by drug companies such as Mylan NV and Teva Pharmaceutical. (The WSJ analysis looks at data supplied by RELX Group’s Elsevier health-information unit.)

The problem is reflected in rising out-of-pocket costs that patients have to pay for the medications. Patients “with high deductibles often wind up paying full list price or a share of the cost derived from the list price,” the WSJ reports. It’s also reflected in what retail pharmacies have to pay. For instance, the price for valsartan rose to 31 cents a tablet from 10 cents a tablet in July 2018, according CDC data.

The price of drugs is one of the subjects of a Kaiser Health News podcast featuring Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times and Alice Ollstein of Politico.

“The biggest conflict among Republicans and Democrats on the drug issue centers on the GOP’s reluctance to give the government a role in directly negotiating prices,” KHN reports. “Adding to the pressure is the clear indication that the issue will be front and center in the 2020 campaign.”