Senator slams drugmaker for seeming to skirt pledge to cap inhaler cost

May 2, 2024

Drug manufacturing giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is subverting its pledge to lower the price of its brand-name inhaler products, a key Democratic senator alleged. 

In a letter to CEO Emma Walmsley made public Thursday, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) said the company appears to be circumventing its public commitment to cap the price of many of its brand-name inhaler products at $35. 

GSK in March was one of three major inhaler manufacturers to commit to capping out-of-pocket costs for all its inhaled asthma and chronic lung disease medicines at $35 per month.  

The manufacturer stopped making its Flovent inhaler on Jan. 1, and is instead offering an “authorized generic” version distributed through a different company. It’s the same drug, just without the branding. Flovent was one of the most popular inhalers for young children with asthma. 

Yet major PBMs like CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and OptumRx have largely refused to pay for the generic. If they cover it, the drug is listed on a nonpreferred tier so patients will face higher copays.  

GSK has not capped the price of generic fluticasone, and Hassan said the company “appears to be exploiting a licensing agreement with Prasco Laboratories in order to circumvent your public commitments and price-gouge families without access to affordable alternatives to Flovent.” 

Hassan is a member of both the Senate Health committee and the Finance Committee.  

Although the list price of the new generic fluticasone inhaler is lower than the previous list price of Flovent HFA, Hassan noted Prasco Laboratories is not offering negotiable pricing terms to insurers to get the product covered on insurance formularies.  

This means that families either must pay the full list price – anywhere from $150 to $250 per month – or go without their children’s medication. 

The dispute between the drug company and PBMs has left patients with few options. 

“Countless children no longer have a single age-appropriate inhaler covered by their insurance plan,” Hassan wrote.  

GSK said it received the letter and would respond to the senator. 

The company has been under scrutiny in recent months from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other Democrats over inhaler pricing. 

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

Tens of millions of Americans suffer from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and rely on inhalers to breathe — about 25 million Americans have asthma, and about 16 million people have COPD.