Remember back in the late 2000s and early 2010s when, as part of the “universal health care” and Obamacare fights, the pro-abortion left tried to pave the way for taxpayer funding by arguing that, hey, if women were paying for Cialis and Viagra, then everyone paying for abortion, the morning after pill, and other forms of “women’s health care” was only fair, too?
It was an incredibly potent narrative with mainstream media and more moderate politicians who previously would have regarded the Hyde Amendment as an obvious and thoroughly rational political compromise.
And the lesson of using erectile dysfunction drugs to move the goalposts with regard to other, more polarizing and controversial policies was not lost on people well outside the pro-abortion and pro-life communities— including, it turns out, Big Pharma.
In a new drug price war development, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, maker of Cialis, is now refusing to provide its product to at a discount to certain pharmacies, as the drugmaker appears to be required to do by law.
Lilly seems to be leveraging what many people might initially regard as the absurdity of non-life-saving, “lifestyle,” man-centric erectile dysfunction drugs benefiting from any sort of “favorable” treatment in order to create a precedent forcing other essential drugs, like insulin, to be similarly excluded from discounts. What Lilly is doing appears likely to be found illegal under legislation signed into law by President George H. W. Bush.
Major drug makers Eli Lilly and Merck are going to war with 340B contract pharmacies by installing new requirements and in some cases refusing to provide their products.
The advocacy group 340B Coalition, a group of healthcare advocates and providers, wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services last week objecting to several moves made by manufacturers Eli Lilly and Merck.
The group was furious Lilly declined to provide a discount for three formulations of the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis if the product is sent to a contract pharmacy, and that Merck wants pharmacies to provide claims data.
“If this is allowed to stand, there would be nothing preventing Lilly from extending this policy to hundreds of very expensive drugs that qualify for 340B pricing, including critical drugs like Humalog,” the letter dated July 16 said.
The 340B program requires manufacturers to give drug discounts to safety-net hospitals in exchange for participation in Medicaid. Sometimes a 340B hospital will use a contract pharmacy to dispense drugs obtained through the program.
Cynical? Sure. But it’s a smart strategy.
The optics of defending drug discounts offered by anyone other than the drugmaker itself as an inducement to buy erectile dysfunction drugs, as opposed to, say, anti-cholesterol drugs, blood thinners, drugs designed to treat COPD, or anti-HIV treatments are, shall we say, bad.
But the reality is, if Lilly succeeds in this gambit— borrowed directly from the Sandra Flukes (remember her?) and Planned Parenthoods of the world— it will wind up affecting all sorts of drugs that less healthy, and often rural, working class Americans depend on to stay alive.
In many cases, the program Lilly is targeting here gets those Americans those life-saving drugs at a discount.
In others, the discounts enable those same Americans’ local health care providers to stay open and operational.
Ultimately, the Health Resources and Services Administration will have to make a call about whether what Lilly is attempting here passes legal muster. But critics of Lilly’s move worry they may get a free pass because of who is in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services: Former Eli Lilly executive Alex Azar.
Azar has been rumored to be on his way out of the Trump administration for some time.
Over the course of his tenure, Azar has proved to be less friendly to Big Pharma than many observers expected when he took up the role.
However, there is concern that if he has one foot out the door, he may be less likely to take action against his former company than he would if he planned to stay on in a potential second Trump administration.
As the health care world watches and waits, conservatives might urge Lilly to simply engage in a straightforward fight over the issue of contract pharmacies if they believe they shouldn’t have to supply discounted drugs to them— rather than leveraging arguments and tactics that were used by the pro-abortion crowd to shut down pro-life Democrats and other critics of early Obamacare proposals to try to eke out some small financial benefit.
Discounted drug sales under the program Lilly objects to constitute something in the range of a meager 5 percent of all drug sales in America, and it’s unlikely that discounted Cialis— a perpetually in demand drug from patients who can and will pay full whack— is seriously denting Lilly’s profits.