Health and Science

Will patients now really pay less for this $$$ drug, or not?

Turing still hasn't lowered drug price
Turing still hasn't lowered drug price

Price cut? What price cut?

Turing Pharmaceuticals, the company that recently ignited a firestorm of controversy after it hiked the price of a drug by more than 5,000 percent overnight just released what it called a set of "improvements" Wednesday in the "accessibility and affordability" of the medication.

But Turing Pharmaceuticals did not say if it was actually reducing the $750 per-pill retail price of the drug Daraprim, as its CEO previously promised.

When asked for specifics, a Turing spokesman did not detail the extent to which the list of announced improvements were different than programs already in place to reduce the cost of the 62-year-old Daraprim for patients.

Nor did he detail how the supposed improvements would affect Turing's bottom line for Daraprim, leaving it unclear how much the measures would actually reduce company profits, if at all.

Martin Shkreli
Paul Taggart | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Further, the spokesman had no immediate comment when asked about the status of a promise made by Turing CEO Martin Shkreli to reduce the $750 price of Daraprim by an unspecified amount. Shkreli had made that promise after being subjected to withering criticism over his recent decision to increase the price from $13.50 per pill.

Turing spokesman Ed Painter then asked CNBC to email him questions about Turing's improvements in Daraprim's affordability. He has yet to respond to that request.

Among the announced improvements was the statement that since Turing had purchased Daraprim in August it has "continued to participate in federal and state programs such as Medicaid" and a drug discount program, that often lead to costs that "as low as $1 per bottle."

"According to Turing's calculations, these programs have accounted for more than half of Turing's sales of Daraprim since the product was acquired in August," the company said.

Turing said it also has established "patient savings programs under which many patients' out-of-pocket expenses will not exceed $10 per prescription."

And, "for uninsured patients who meet financial-need criteria, Turing provides Daraprim with no out-of-pocket expense under the existing product patient assistance program," the company said. Turing also noted that it contributes to Patient Services Inc., a charity that "provides support for financially needy patients' cost-sharing obligations for any toxoplasmosis therapies, consistent with PSI's advisory opinion from the HHS Office of Inspector General."

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Turing's sharp increase of Daraprim's price drew widespread public outrage when it was disclosed in September, and it became the latest example of what critics have called a series of outrageous and unjustified prices charged by pharmaceutical makers. Daraprim is used to treat a parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis, which is seen in AIDS patients and pregnant women.

Shkreli initially defended the price increase as necessary both to maintain Turing's profitability and to fund research and development of alternative medications for toxoplasmosis.

On the heels of the news, Shkreli told CNBC's "Power Lunch" show "no" when asked if he would cut the price of Daraprim in light of the criticism.

But within a day, he was backing off that stance. He told NBC News and other news outlets that he would cut Daraprim's price, although he did not say to what extent.

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However, since then, a check of three outlets of major retail pharmacy chains in the New York City area found Daraprim for sale at prices in excess of $750 per pill. At a Walgreen's store, the drug was selling for $900.06 per tablet, while a CVS was selling it for $882.04 each. The lowest price of the three came at a Rite Aid in Englewood, New Jersey, which was selling Daraprim for $841.58 per pill, more than $90 per pill over Daraprim's listed price.

Out of four independent pharmacies contacted by CNBC, just one, Arrow Pharmacy in New York, had access to Daraprim's current price from its wholesaler, and that was for $749.25 per tablet. The other three pharmacies said their wholesalers listed the drug as being unavailable.

CNBC's Drew Casey contributed to this story.