Standard Speaker

Members of Congress conducted hearings last year and justly pilloried executives for several pharmaceutical companies who had exponentially increased the prices of life-saving medicines. Then, they did nothing.

Monday, the Maryland Legislature stepped up and overwhelmingly passed a bill authorizing the state attorney to act against price-gouging.

The bill would enable the attorney general to seek detailed information from a manufacturer when price increases appear to be unjustified by the cost of producing or distributing the drug.

That reflects several cases in recent years, in which manufacturers acquire the rights to produce and distribute drugs that no longer are under patent protection but which have dominant market share, and then vastly increase the price simply because they can do so.

Daraprim was a 62-year-old drug when Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired it in 2014. It is used primarily to treat the dangerous parasitic infection taxoplasmosis. In 2015 Turing raised the price from $13.50 per pill to $750.

Then in 2016, after the Canadian company Valeant Pharmaceuticals acquired production and distribution rights to two drugs used to treat heart disease, it raised the prices by between 200 percent and 500 percent.

“When a drug company doubles or triples — or multiplies by 50 — the price of medication, it imperils the health and finances of patients and their families, and it threatens public health,” Democratic Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told the Associated Press.

The Maryland bill’s critics argue that it will diminish competition in the pharmaceutical industry, but it’s a self-defeating argument. The price-gougers act with impunity because there is no competition for the specific drugs that they price into the stratosphere.

Pennsylvania lawmakers should follow the lead of their Maryland colleagues and empower the state attorney general to help create the deterrence that is needed to preclude price-gouging on life-saving medications.

Last modified: May 9, 2017