Dec 28, 2020

Part I: Sticking with Price-Hiking “Business-as-Usual” During Pandemic

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 58 million Americans struggled to afford their prescription drugs. Now, the ongoing economic impact of the public health crisis continues to leave millions of American workers, families and seniors struggling just to stay afloat. Meanwhile, prescription drug prices continue to rise, due to continued bad behavior from Big Pharma – making it even harder for American patients to afford their medications.

From engaging in price hikes during a pandemic and angling to price-gouge Americans on COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, while receiving billions of dollars from taxpayers, to escalating its assault on the critical 340B program and purposefully blocking competition and engaging in kick-back schemes, Big Pharma continues to place profits over people.

On top of this year of bad behavior, Big Pharma can be expected to maintain an annual tradition of ringing in the New Year with a fresh round of price hikes beginning on January 1. In the countdown to these New Year pandemic price hikes from Big Pharma, this blog series will outline the egregious actions of the industry over the past year, as a reminder, that policymakers in Washington must act to hold drug companies accountable.

Today, we’re exploring Big Pharma’s price-hiking “business-as-usual” during the pandemic.


Big Pharma companies traditionally hike prescription drug prices in two large biennial batches: At the start of the year and mid-year in early summer. In January of 2020, Big Pharma hiked prices on more than 600 drugs by an average of 5.2 percent. In the summer of 2019, Big Pharma hiked prices on 104 drugs by an average of 13.1 percent. Despite calls to suspend traditional mid-year price hikes while millions of Americans grappled with economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 crisis, sure enough, like clockwork, Big Pharma began hiking prescription drug prices in July 2020 and increased prices on more than 65 brand name drugs.

Twelve of Big Pharma’s summer price hikes equaled or exceeded five percent, including four from brand name drug giant AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca hiked prices on three products in the company’s portfolio by six percent in July, including cholesterol medication Crestor; heartburn medication Nexium and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) medication Daliresp. AstraZeneca hiked the price of COPD medication Bevespi Aerosphere by five percent. In July of this year, AstraZeneca reported a net profit of $756 million, up from $130 million in the same period a year earlier, after increasing prescription drug prices at least 25 times this year.

HRA Pharma notched the highest percentage increase this past summer, hiking Metopirone by 25 percent, according to a study from Analysource.

And while Big Pharma routinely tries to justify drug price hikes by pointing to research and development (R&D). The truth is:

  • Price Hikes Aren’t Connected To Drug Improvements: Drug companies hiked prices on seven popular drugs in 2017 and 2018 with no evidence that the drugs had been improved, resulting in $5.1 billion in increased costs.
  • Big Pharma Puts Profits Before R&D: Big Pharma used a windfall from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to line shareholders’ pockets, rather than invest in R&D. In fact, the single-year increase in payouts to Wall Street and shareholding Big Pharma board members and executives was 17 times larger than the increase in R&D spending.
  • The Industry Is Thriving While Millions Are Struggling: 10 of the largest Big Pharma companies reported expectation-besting earnings for the third quarter of 2020 after hiking prices on American patients.

Big Pharma is busting profit and revenue expectations and receiving billions of dollars in research funding from taxpayers while millions of Americans are struggling. Engaging in price hikes during a pandemic, while receiving billions of dollars from taxpayers to help develop COVID-19 treatments, demonstrates why policymakers must act to hold Big Pharma accountable.

Read more on market-based solutions to hold Big Pharma accountable HERE.

Stay tuned this week as we continue to shine a light on Big Pharma’s Year of Bad Behavior.