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U.S. Senate committee launches investigation of asthma inhaler prices

Rebecca Barnabi
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The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) announced Monday it will investigate the price of asthma inhalers made by four pharmaceutical companies.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, chair of the committee, and Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Ben Ray Lujan and Edward Markey sent letters to the chief executives of AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, GSK and Teva requesting information by January 22, 2024 about pricing and other business practices.

As reported by CNN, the committee seeks information about practices that may have reduced competition and kept costs of inhalers high in the United States.

“I am conducting an investigation into the efforts of these companies to pump up their profits by artificially inflating and manipulating the price of asthma inhalers that have been on the market for decades,” Sanders said in a news release. “The United States cannot continue to pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.”

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) applauded the announcement yesterday, and calls for action to break down barriers that prevent access to and limit affordability of asthma treatment.

“Ten people die each day from asthma. With appropriate treatment, asthma is a disease that can be controlled,” AAFA president and CEO Kenneth Mendez said. “AAFA applauds the Senate HELP Committee for addressing the high costs of asthma inhalers. Access to these medications can save lives, reduce hospitalizations, and lower the more than $82 billion in annual costs to the US economy from this chronic disease.”

AAFA noted in a statement that drug pricing in the U.S.  is based on a complex system of inputs.“The U.S. drug pricing system is complicated. Pharmaceutical manufacturers, pharmacy benefit managers, insurance companies, employers and federal policies can create situations that drive up costs and reduce access to critical medications,” Mendez said.The investigation by Senate HELP, according to Mendez, can be a starting point for a deeper conversation about drug pricing and access to essential medications.

“We are hopeful the HELP Committee investigation will lead to a national conversation about asthma drug costs and produce action that breaks down barriers to affordable treatment for people with asthma. The bottom line is that cost drives access. We understand the barriers, now it is important to move toward solutions.”

AAFA shared the patient perspective with the HELP Committee and research from AAFA helped inform the committee’s investigation framework.

One of the AAFA reports cited in letters sent to drug manufacturers highlights disparities in asthma treatment and outcomes.

“AAFA’s Asthma Disparities in America report reveals that asthma disproportionately affects seniors, women, people who have low-income or low-wealth, and people who are Black, Hispanic, or Indigenous,” AAFA Chief Mission Officer Melanie Carver, a co-author of the report, said. When costs becomes a barrier, AAFA research revealed that patients with asthma will ration or discontinue use of treatment.

The investigation is an opportunity to highlight the burden of asthma borne by patients and families. It’s also important to address the systemic inequality driving unequal outcomes in our healthcare system.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.