Senator slams drug manufacturer for appearing to back away from promise to cap inhaler costs

Drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is undermining its promise to lower the price of its branded inhaler products, a key Democratic senator has claimed.

In a letter to CEO Emma Walmsley made public Thursday, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) said the company appears to be sidestepping its public commitment to cap the price of many of its branded inhaler products at $35.

GSK was one of three major inhaler manufacturers in March to commit to limiting out-of-pocket costs for all its inhaled asthma and chronic lung disease drugs to $35 per month.

The manufacturer stopped production of its Flovent inhaler on January 1 and is instead offering an “authorized generic” version distributed through another company. It’s the same drug, just without the brand name. Flovent was one of the most popular inhalers for young children with asthma.

Yet major PBMs like CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and OptumRx have largely refused to pay for the generic. If they do cover it, the drug will be listed at a non-preferred level so patients will face higher copays.

GSK has not capped the price of generic fluticasone, and Hassan said the company “appears to be exploiting a licensing agreement with Prasco Laboratories to avoid your public obligations and circumvent price families without access to affordable alternatives to Flovent.”

Hassan serves on both the Senate Health and Finance Committees.

Although the list price of the new generic fluticasone inhaler is lower than Flovent HFA’s previous list price, Hassan noted that Prasco Laboratories does not offer negotiable pricing terms to insurers to get the product covered on insurance forms.

This means families will either have to pay the full list price – somewhere between $150 and $250 per month – or go without their children’s medications.

The dispute between the pharmaceutical company and PBMs has left patients with few options.

“Countless children no longer have one age-appropriate inhaler covered by their insurance plan,” Hassan wrote.

GSK said it had received the letter and would respond to the senator.

The company has come under scrutiny in recent months by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other Democrats over the price of inhalers.

The company also faces criticism from federal regulators over anti-competitive practices that could slow the introduction of cheaper generic drugs to the market.

Tens of millions of Americans suffer from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and rely on inhalers to breathe – about 25 million Americans have asthma and about 16 million people have COPD.

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.