Democrats Launch Investigation Into Asthma Inhaler Pricing

On Monday, several Senate Democrats, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), initiated a probe into the exorbitant prices of asthma inhalers.

Approximately 25 million Americans have asthma, and approximately 16 million individuals have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), both of which need the use of inhalers for breathing. People with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) typically have to limit how often they use their inhalers due to the expensive expense of the equipment.

Sanders, who is the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, demanded documents and information regarding internal strategic communications, patient assistance programs, and the costs of manufacturing inhalers from the CEOs of GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, Teva– the four most prominent manufacturers of inhalers sold in the US.

The Democrat Senators from New Mexico, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin (Ben Ray Luján, Ed Markey, and Tammy Baldwin) signed the letters. They highlighted that inhalers generated over $25 billion in revenue for AstraZeneca, GSK, and Teva in the last five years.

Like many other prescription pharmaceuticals, the company’s inhalers cost hundreds of dollars in the US yet sell for a fraction of that amount elsewhere. Monthly inhaler purchases may cost anywhere from $200 to $600 per unit, depending on the manufacturer.

A case in point is an inhaler by AstraZeneca, which retails for $645 in the US but just $49 in the UK. The price of one inhaler from Boehringer Ingelheim drops to $7 in France from $489 in the US. The widely used Advair HFA, made by GSK, retails for $319 in the US yet just $26 in the UK.

In their letters, the senators made the case that the poorest populations are disproportionately affected by asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Senators said that drug companies were taking advantage of the regulatory system to shield their wares from generic alternatives, which would reduce consumer prices.