Drugmaker will cap inhaler costs at $35 per month amid scrutiny

Drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim plans to cap the out-of-pocket costs for all its inhalers at $35 per month after coming under fire from Democratic lawmakers over pricing.

The company announced Thursday that the program will start June 1. It’s aimed at patients with employer-sponsored insurance, and those who are underinsured and uninsured, meaning they likely have to pay cash.

The company also agreed to reduce the list price of some of its inhalers, but did not provide more details.

The cap will extend to the company’s full range of inhaler products used to treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a disease that commonly affects smokers.

Jean-Michel Boers, president and CEO of Boehringer Ingelheim’s U.S. operations, said in a statement the move is meant to make the health system more “fair” for the most vulnerable.

“We want to do our part to help patients living with COPD or asthma who struggle to pay for their medications. This new program supports patients with predictable, affordable costs at the pharmacy counter,” Boers said.

The change comes amid increasing attention and criticism about the cost of inhalers. Boehringer Ingelheim and three of its rivals — AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Teva —are under investigation by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other Democrats for charging Americans significantly more than consumers pay overseas for the same products.

The companies are also facing scrutiny from federal regulators for anticompetitive practices that can delay lower-cost generics from coming to market.

In a statement Thursday, Sanders said the changes announced “are very positive steps in the right direction,” and called on the other three major manufacturers to take the same steps.

“If Boehringer Ingelheim can take action to cap the cost of inhalers at $35 in the United States and lower the list price of some of the inhalers it manufactures, these other companies can do the same,” Sanders said.

Tens of millions of Americans suffer from asthma and COPD and rely on inhalers to breathe — about 25 million Americans have asthma, and about 16 million people have COPD.

The move to cap out-of-pocket costs on inhalers is reminiscent of what insulin manufacturers did last year after coming under fire for exorbitant price hikes. Sanofi, Novo Nordisk, and Eli Lilly all eventually launched programs to cap patient out-of-pocket costs at $35 a month for certain insulin products.

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