Rx Price Hike Targets Seniors, Fleeces Public, Enriches Doctors

Medicare spent $2 billion for one drug as the maker paid docs millions

(CNN) More than 80% of doctors who filed Medicare claims in 2016 for H.P. Acthar Gel received money or other perks from the drugmakers.

CNN’s analysis found that the drugmakers — Mallinckrodt and Questcor — paid 288 prescribers more than $6.5 million between 2013 and 2016.

At about the same time, Medicare spending on Acthar rose dramatically — more than tenfold over six years.

Medicare spent nearly $2 billion on Acthar from 2011-2016 — even though some doctors say an equally effective treatment would have cost a tiny fraction of that amount.

“The evidence that this drug is any better than synthetic steroids is either weak or does not exist.” Daniel Hartung, Oregon State College of Pharmacy

Much of the rise in Medicare spending coincided with a marketing push by Mallinckrodt to target adults, especially seniors, after it purchased Acthar’s previous manufacturer, Questcor, in 2014.

A separate study of Acthar payments and prescribing patterns found results similar to CNN’s analysis. The authors of that study, published in JAMA Network Open, said their findings “suggest financial conflicts of interest may be driving the use of [Acthar] in the Medicare program.”

“We clearly found that as you ratchet up the payments to doctors, there were more prescriptions generated and more spending in the Medicare program on this drug,” said Daniel Hartung, the study’s lead author.

Acthar is best known for treating babies with infantile spasms, a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy.

Hartung, an associate professor at Oregon State’s College of Pharmacy, said he found it troubling the drug is being marketed in adult medicine, with taxpayers footing the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mallinckrodt’s recent push in the fields of rheumatology, nephrology, and multiple sclerosis, he said, was the result of the drugmaker’s “aggressive marketing for a number of conditions that, while having an FDA indication, are poorly supported by the medical evidence.” Read the full story at CNN. 

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