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December 7, 2017; Bloomberg

There’s a tendency for big drug companies to raise prices while at the same time donating to patient assistance charities that subsidize high-priced medications. These charitable donations, in other words, support exorbitant pricing. In the end, the major customers paying full price are government programs, and their money comes from taxpayer dollars.

Last week, we covered the story of the Caring Voice Coalition, a patient assistance charity that had its certification withdrawn by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) because of ties to pharmaceutical companies that were deemed too close. HHS has never before rescinded a favorable advisory opinion for one of these patient assistance groups, so the move was fairly historic, as will be the actions of the group and the government in response.

The investigation found that the Caring Voice Coalition provided drugmakers who donated to them with data proving that customers who bought their drugs were being helped specifically. Such information could be used to determine whether to raise prices.

Now, Caring Voice has abruptly shut down its assistance program, declaring it will wait until January to determine if it can continue to subsidize prescriptions.

“We are very concerned that we may not be able to remain as a long-term viable resource for individuals with chronic illness,” said Gregory Smiley, chief executive officer of Caring Voice. “The CVC Board of Directors is continuing to evaluate all options available to our organization.”

Meanwhile, the patients have been directed to look elsewhere for subsidies for their medications.—Ruth McCambridge