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May 20, 2016

Critics Say Charities Help Drug Companies Cover for Price Spikes

Big pharmaceutical companies are using contributions to so-called “co-pay charities” to deflect criticism of what massive price hikes for lifesaving medications, according to a Bloomberg BusinessWeek investigation.

Funded almost entirely by the drug industry, nonprofits such as Patient Services Inc. and the Patient Access Network Foundation help people cover insurance co-payments for expensive treatments. Such organizations have received millions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies to help patients keep buying drugs, includng some for which the firms have bought the rights and increased charges by as much as 5,000 percent.

From 2010 to 2014, donations to the seven biggest co-pay charities more than doubled, tracking growth in drug prices. The donations were key to the business plan of Turing Pharmaceuticals, which became notorious last year, under then-CEO Martin Shkreli, for massive price increases, Bloomberg BusinessWeek writes, citing internal company documents.

“It looks great for pharmaceutical companies to say they are helping patients get the drugs,” said Adriane Fugh-Berman, an associate professor of pharmacology and physiology at Georgetown University. But such donations, she said, serve primarily to “deflect criticism of high drug prices. Meanwhile, they’re bankrupting the health-care system.”