Five weeks after getting no response from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on his request for more information on the potential financial impact of Eisai and Biogen’s newly approved Alzheimer’s treatment Leqembi, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is applying more pressure.
Sanders has sent a letter to the Secretary of the HHS, Xavier Becerra, asking how much of a financial burden Leqembi—at its $26,500 annual price tag—will put on customers individually and on Medicare’s annual operating budget.
If HHS does not respond, Sanders will ask Becerra to attend a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) hearing “to explain to the American people why we pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs,” he wrote.
On June 7, the day that the FDA signed off on Leqembi, Sanders fired off a letter to the HHS calling the price of the drug “unconscionable,” adding that it would “prevent seniors who need this drug from receiving treatment.” The co-pay for the drug would be out of reach for many seniors, Sanders wrote.
Sanders also railed about the financial burden Medicare would sustain and warned that the drug could cause increases to premiums. He urged the HHS to break Eisai’s patent on the treatment if Leqembi’s cost is not reduced.
“As we grapple with the huge number of Americans who will be seeking medical treatment for Alzheimer’s, we must develop policies now that prevent pharmaceutical companies from bankrupting Medicare and our entire healthcare system,” Sanders wrote this week.
In response to request for comment, Eisai referred to a lengthy Jan. 7 statement, which explained how the company arrived at a price tag for Leqembi.
“While we estimate the per-patient-per-year value of Leqembi treatment to the U.S. society to be $37,600, Eisai decided to price Leqembi below quantified societal value at the wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) of $26,500 per year,” the company wrote, adding that it is working on a less frequent dosage version of the drug which would be less expensive.
After becoming chairman of the powerful HELP committee, Sanders—a longtime opponent of Big Pharma—has become even more ubiquitous in his efforts to reduce drug prices.
Last month, he pushed to mandate price caps for drugs that were developed with the help of government funding, seeking reauthorization of the 2006 Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act.