Gilead Sciences Is Trying to Limit Discount Drug Options – Opinion

One pharmaceutical company that has long opposed efforts to bring down prices (including those championed by President Trump) moved to sharply curtail the amount of discount drugs it sells just days after receiving bad results in relation to a breast cancer drug and investment giant Barclays making a consequent move deeming the stock overvalued.

One of the most vocal opponents to drug pricing reforms is Gilead Sciences. It routinely funds efforts to get rid of a federal drug discount program, and has also been accused of exerting outsized influence on national pharmaceutical pricing policy through the company’s former lobbyist, Joe Grogan.

After working for Gilead, Grogan served for years as the director of health programs at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and director of the president’s Domestic Policy Council. In those roles, he was responsible for implementing President Trump’s drug pricing policies outlined on the 2016 campaign trail and once in office— which included things like prescription drug re-importation, Medicare drug price negotiation, and more.

However, Grogan was tagged for “upending” Trump’s drug pricing agenda.

Grogan left the White House long before Trump did, but Gilead has continued to exert major influence in Washington, D.C., employing three of the ten highest-revenue-grossing lobbying firms in D.C. in 2021 (Akin Gump, BGR and Forbes Tate), bankrolling PhRMA— the huge pharmaceutical industry trade group that has done battle with figures like Sen. Chuck Grassley over drug pricing— and working to kill the 340B drug discount program.

This is also the same program that allows Gilead, in return for accessing entitlement funds, to offer some of its products at a discount to safety network providers. These providers are often located in rural areas and poorer parts of the country. And in a new move, Gilead is massively restricting those sales while it continues to make just as much if not more than ever thanks to entitlement spending on drugs— and as inflation hits drug prices along with everything else in Joe Biden’s economy.

If the safety net entities hand over enough patient claims data, Gilead is said to be able to continue selling as usual. This may not be true, even though it appears to be a scam by Gilead, who knows that staff need to spend their time providing care and not creating spreadsheets. Everybody who has ever interacted with hospitals or doctors over the past few decades will know that HIPAA’s federal privacy law limits the data they are allowed to share to any third party.

In fact, HIPAA prevents some doctors from even emailing with their patients, meaning it should be pretty obvious that Gilead cannot get what it wants here— though of course what it really wants is fewer discounts on fewer drugs. In this case, it looks like Hepatitis C drugs will be affected in particular, though Gilead has previously taken heat for trying to stop or limit discounts on HIV-related medication which retails at $1,843.86 for a 30-day supply, and which remains very needed in opioid addiction-ravaged America.

Critics of Gilead’s move say that what it is doing here has been opposed by both the Trump and Biden administration, and point to two federal court rulings saying this type of restriction is unlawful. A policy change is also being made after Gilead had reported $27 million in revenue in its last financial year. But of course, it also comes after a disappointing result for that cancer drug, and after its stock was deemed “overpriced” by a major investment bank. What better way to make the stock price look more “on target” than to reduce discounted sales?

This raises the question of whether Joe Biden intends to take any action. His administration has mostly sought to “combat” inflation by pushing a bunch of antitrust investigations and bills that would allow yet more of them, and then deflecting from real concerns about inflation by blaming Russia, or “price-gouging” oil companies. When he was elected, Grassley, Sen. Mitt Romney, and others made clear to Biden that they wanted to work with him on drug pricing, but so far, the only real actions Biden has taken to keep drug prices down have been to offer free COVID vaccines and keep pursuing the now-failed “Build Back Better” bill that cannot pass the Senate because Joe Manchin opposes it (though likely not the pharmaceutical provisions).

This is not, needless to say, delivering up a solution for anyone, and the more that people get hit with price hikes— whether it is on gas, medication, meat, or milk prices— the more Biden flailing will be obvious.

It is important to note that Giliead is a large drug company. This will allow for reduced prices, which in turn will result in higher-priced medications for patients. However, this will also make it difficult for rural health providers to keep their doors open. They often sell discounted drugs in order to finance critical daily operations.

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