Oregonians faced dozens of price increases for drugs last year

Oregonians got clobbered again last year with drug price increases (Wikimedia Commons)

Drug prices rose again last year for dozens of drugs in Oregon, and nearly 200 new higher-priced drugs hit the market.

Those are two highlights from Oregon’s latest drug price transparency report, which will be released next week. Key points were covered on Wednesday at a meeting that brought together lawmakers, experts and officials involved in the drug price transparency program. 

Numi Lee Griffith, senior policy adviser at the state Department of Consumer and Business Services, which oversees the program, said the top two most expensive new drugs were Abecma, listed at $419,500 for a vial, and Breyanzi, priced at $419,500 for a vial. Made by Bristol Myers Squibb, they are so-called CAR-T cancer drugs that use the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells.  

“Most of the highest-cost drugs that we see tend to be for cancer or for another sort of difficult-to-treat disease that don’t have a lot of treatments out there for them already,” Griffith said.

About 60% of the higher-cost new drugs were sold under a brand name, and the rest were generics, Griffith said.

The state program, started in 2018, requires manufacturers by law to annually report new drugs that cost $670 or more for a 30-day supply. Companies have to report price increases of 10% or more a year for a drug costing at least $100 for a 30-day supply. The department also collects payment reports from insurers but those reports are voluntary.

Insured patients rarely pay retail prices but they could face higher co-pays depending on how the insurer classifies the drug or see other cost increases.

“More expensive drugs will be in higher-cost sharing tiers, and overall high costs increase premiums market-wide,” Numi told the Capital Chronicle in a message. “Uninsured patients and high-deductible patients may have to pay list price for a drug.”

The program solicits public comments on drug prices. Those show that some Oregonians can’t buy their medications regularly because they need money for food or housing.

“Even with price increases slowing, there’s still a big burden on individuals due to drug prices,” Griffith told the Capital Chronicle.

Last year companies reported price increases for 71 drugs – 40 generics and 31 branded drugs. A generic made by Nostrum Labs had the highest year-over-year increase: 778%. Griffith did not give details about its price.

The average increases were 27% for generics and 13% for branded drugs.

Since 2015, companies have reported fewer price increases on existing drugs, Griffith said. In Oregon, there was a huge drop in the number of price reports after 2019, the first year that the program collected the reports. That year, drug manufacturers reported increasing prices on 550 drugs. In 2020, they filed 160 reports. The reduced number is not because companies are shielding price rises, Griffith said. 

“We’re tracking that,” she told the Capital Chronicle. 

Though analysts don’t know why fewer drugs are seeing price increases, Griffith noted that states like Oregon and California have recently adopted public reporting programs. But she said the trend started even before that. She said that companies might be coming out of the gate with high prices to avoid raising them over time.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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