- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2015

President Obama’s top health official kicked off a summit on drug prices Friday by praising the pharmaceutical industry’s knack for innovation while sounding the alarm over prescription prices that put new treatments out of reach for too many Americans.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell highlighted the financial toll of specialty drugs for diseases like Hepatitis C, which affects 3 million Americans.

“New drugs have revolutionized treatment and improved cure rates,” she said at HHS headquarters, where industry and government officials were scheduled to speak. “Treatments, however, can cost more than $100,000. And that’s an issue for both patients and the organizations and governments that serve them.”

Three out of four adults infected by Hepatitis C are baby boomers, putting financial stress on Medicare’s prescription-drug program, she said.

Recent polls have suggested Americans see prescription drug costs as their leading health concern, and both the current administration and 2016 candidates have taken notice, saying reforms are needed to help patients take advantage of medical breakthroughs.

Mrs. Burwell said spending on specialty drugs — for instance, treatments for chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis — stood at $87 billion in 2012, or 25 percent of drug spending overall. Yet that level is expected to spike to $400 billion by 2020, or 9 percent of health spending.

HHS convened Friday’s summit to brainstorm ideas about how to rein in drug costs.

“New medical breakthroughs can change lives, but we must make sure that they are available to those who need them,” Mrs. Burwell said. “For the sake of patients, our health care system and our economy, we must simultaneously support innovation, access and affordability.”

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