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Hillary Clinton promises to take on Big Pharma's pricing

Hillary Clinton

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(NaturalNews) Drug prices have been at the center of legislative efforts in Congress, where members have filed bills, held hearings and talked critically about the costs imposed on the American consumer by Big Pharma. Doctors have campaigned on social media, while some think tanks have come up with cost-benefit analyses and recommendations.

Nevertheless, none of this had taken the spotlight off of Big Pharma, whom most Americans blame for the hikes. The last thing the industry needed was a major scandal, right?

Yet that's what it got thanks to Turing Pharma CEO Martin Shkreli. In recent days, the company purchased a standard-of-care drug for toxoplasmosis infections – Daraprim – and then immediately raised its price by an eye-popping 5,000 percent. The pill is prescribed to AIDS sufferers and cancer patients. It cost $13.50 per tablet just weeks ago, but is now up to $750.

In an interview with CNBC, Shkreli justified the dramatic hike as necessary to fund the development of a new drug that has less toxic effects than Daraprim – even though doctors the network spoke to said that a new drug is not needed.

Because of this dramatic hike, the price of prescription drugs has now also become an issue in the current presidential campaign cycle, with Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton pledging to address the issue if elected.

Describing what Shkreli did as "price gouging" – a familiar phrase politicians like to use – Clinton said during an interview on CBS' Face the Nation, "I'm going to address" drug prices, "starting with how we're going to try to control the cost of skyrocketing prescription drugs."

She added: "It's something I hear about everywhere I go."

Investigations and other price increases

In Congress, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, has been conducting an investigation into rising drug prices. He said he planned to request information about Daraprim from the drug's new owner.

Clinton's thinly veiled threat to regulate drug prices or implement government-imposed price controls has Big Pharma nervous.

"The entire argument that the government will begin to behave [as controller of prescription prices] is something the drug industry has been fighting tooth and nail," Sanford Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal told CNBC. "If that actually becomes a policy and looks like it's coming to a chance of passing you'll see drug company valuations cut 20 percent across the board."

Some doctors have also questioned Shkreli's dramatic hike.

"What is it that they are doing differently that has led to this dramatic increase?" Dr. Judith Aberg, the chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, asked The New York Times. She added that the price increase would probably force hospitals to use "alternative therapies that may not have the same efficacy."

In reality, the Times said, Daraprim's price increase is far from the only one:

While most of the attention on pharmaceutical prices has been on new drugs for diseases like cancer, hepatitis C and high cholesterol, there is also growing concern about huge price increases on older drugs, some of them generic, that have long been mainstays of treatment.

Some of the increases have come due to lack of availability, but others have come as Big Pharma buys up older drugs that companies then transform into higher-priced "specialty" medications.

One example of this is Doxycycline. The long-established antibiotic went from $20 a bottle in 2013 to $1,849 a bottle by April 2014, Cummings and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also a Democratic presidential contender, said.

"This isn't the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients, it is us trying to stay in business," Shkreli told the Times.

"This is still one of the smallest pharmaceutical products in the world," he added. "It really doesn't make sense to get any criticism for this."

As for Clinton, early in her husband's presidency, she worked hard to transform the country's health care system into a socialistic single-payer system that would have imposed price controls, among other government requirements, but it never made it through Congress.

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