Big Pharma raises prices on hundreds of drugs

New year, new hikes.

Credit: GP Kidd
Credit: GP Kidd

Dozens of pharmaceutical companies began the new year by raising prices for hundreds of medicines, proving the administration’s naming and shaming of Big Pharma last year didn’t work.

Approximately 60 companies hiked prices during the first two days of January, according to a new analysis from Rx Saving Solutions and first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Some of the biggest increases hover around 10 percent, more than four times inflation. The United States already has some of the highest drug prices in the world, especially compared to countries where the government regulates or negotiates prices of new drugs.

The average increase was 6.3 percent. Here are some of 2019’s biggest hikes:

  • 7T Pharma’s Zingo (to numb skin prior to drawing blood): 133.4 percent
  • Hikma Pharmaceuticals’ Enalaprilat (to treat high blood pressure): 30.1 percent
  • Hikma’s Ketamine (quick-acting anesthetic): 20 percent
  • Hikma’s Morphine (injectable pain reliever): 10.2 percent
  • Vertical Pharmaceuticals’ ConZip (to treat severe ongoing pain): 10 percent
  • Allegran USA’s Bystolic (to treat high blood pressure): 9.5 percent
  • Purdue’s OxyContin (highly addictive opioid): 9.5 percent

The increases affect the list prices of prescription drugs, so not what the majority of patients who have insurance actually pay at the pharmacy. List prices don’t reflect negotiations between drugmakers and insurance companies or the insurer middlemen (pharmacy benefits managers). Instead, they serve as a starting bid so companies are negotiating down from sky-high prices.


“In 2019, we expect to realize 0% net increase in our drug prices as increased rebates and discounts paid to insurers, PBMs and government programs are continuing to grow. These rebates and discounts are paid to ensure access to our products and, ideally, lower their out of pocket expenditures,” said Brent Saunders, Allergan’s chairman and CEO, in a statement to ThinkProgress.

“[W]e anticipate that the average net price change for our U.S. portfolio of medicines will continue to be neutral vs. 2018,” Carrie Fernandez, spokesperson for Bristol-Myers Squibb, told ThinkProgress by email. BMS’ Eliquis (cancer immunotherapy) increased by 6.0 percent on January 1, 2019.

It’s common for drug companies to make this argument. It’s also true that as drug prices rise, revenue for companies grows. A recent Leerink analysis between 2014 and 2017 found that price increases of 45 top drugs accounted for 60 percent of their sales growth in the U.S.

Tackling soaring drug prices has been a priority for the Trump administration and one it’s claimed victory over. Last year, Pfizer delayed hikes after Trump berated the company on Twitter. The company temporarily halted scheduled increases on 41 products over the summer after meeting with the administration. The company reportedly said it did so “to give the president an opportunity to work on his blueprint to strengthen the healthcare system and provide more access to patients.”

Last August, 100 days after the administration released its 44-page blueprint for drug pricing reform, the administration released another report, highlighting the fact that 15 pharmaceutical companies either pushed to reduce list prices, reversed planned price increases, or pledged to freeze prices for the rest of 2018. A Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official told ThinkProgress the 15 companies were Pfizer, Merck, Novartis, Gilead, Roche, Novo Nordisk, AstraZeneca, Roche, Allergan, Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Bayer, Celgene, Eli Lilly, and Bausch.


“The President’s blueprint for lower drug prices is working, drug prices are coming down, and American patients are going to see the savings in their pocketbook,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in the report.

Of the 15 companies HHS spotlighted, at least four companies (Allergan, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Bayer, and Eli Lilly) increased prices for a minimum of one drug in 2019, per Rx Saving Solutions. ThinkProgress reached out to every company to verify but did not immediately hear back from everyone. Eli Lilly, for example, increased the price of the Type 2 diabetes medication Jardiance by 6 percent. As for companies who haven’t, there’s usually a catch: Roche reversed course only after the Swiss drugmaker had already completed two rounds of “customary annual” hikes in 2018; Pfizer is expected to increase prices for 41 products in mid-January; and Novartis plans to increase list prices for 14 percent of the medicines in its U.S. portfolio in 2019.

Chief executive of RX Savings Solutions Michael Rea, who analyzed the data, doesn’t think the administration’s approach has been as impactful as officials say.

“There are a lot of initiatives by the administration to tackle this issue but I just don’t think we’ve seen any that has been significantly impactful yet,” said Rea, adding officials “are handcuffed a little bit on what they can do even if they wanted to do it.”

He says a lot of it comes down to the approach, which isn’t holistic but more akin to plugging a hole in a leaking dam with bubble gum.

“The effectiveness of public shaming is waning,” Rea also told ThinkProgress.

Something to keep in mind for the new Congress being sworn in on Thursday is the public’s top ask of lawmakers is to lower drug prices. Eighty percent of respondents want Congress to prioritize lowering the costs of prescription drugs, per a new POLITICO/Harvard poll.


While many lawmakers have said they’ll focus on this issue, it’s hard to see what substantive bill passes with Democrats controlling the House and Republicans maintaining control of the Senate and White House. Big Pharma’s influence over leadership also threatens progress. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) received more than $2.3 million total in campaign contributions from drugmakers since the 2007-08 election cycle, according to Kaiser Health News.