Report shows high drug costs

Mandy Seaton holds an insulin pump for her son, Ronin, 9, at their North Side home Wednesday. Both live with Type 1 diabetes, which means they would die without insulin. She considers herself lucky because her husband's job with Franklin County includes good insurance that covers all but about $3,000 of the annual cost of the medicine, which has skyrocketed in recent years.

The cost of insulin has been kept artificially high for millions of Americans because drug manufacturers and middlemen work together to maximize their profits, a new bipartisan investigation shows.

This maneuvering around the growing price tag for medicine needed by diabetics to combat America's No. 7 killer represents a microcosm of the reasons prescription drugs cost so much in the U.S.

It also demonstrates one of the consequences of growing consolidation within American health care, a trend The Dispatch is investigating.

“Insulin is Exhibit A of why America’s drug pricing system is broken from top to bottom," said U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden in a statement to The Dispatch/USA TODAY Network. "Our bipartisan report reveals how large corporations benefit from high prices while consumers and taxpayers foot the bill.”

The Oregon Democrat and Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley oversaw a two-year probe by investigators for the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, who used 100,000 internal documents and emails that for the first time lay out a detailed pattern of abuse by PhRMA and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). Grassley was chairman of the panel; Wyden is expected to be named his successor soon.

Mandy Seaton and her son, Ronin, 9, live with Type 1 diabetes. Mandy sticks her own finger to get a drop of blood to test her blood sugar at their home on Wednesday, January 27, 2021.

"The explosive Senate Finance Committee report exposes what pharmacists have known all along. PBMs were supposed to lower prescription drug costs and protect medication access. Instead, they are doing the exact opposite," said Scott Knoer, CEO and executive vice president of the American Pharmacists Association.

"Despite their promises of lowering prescription drug costs, PBMs have used their secret dealings with drugmakers to push prices higher as a means to increase kickbacks for themselves," added Knoer, who for the previous nine years was chief pharmacy officer at the Cleveland Clinic.

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