New Intermountain Healthcare drug company to provide affordable generic medication

SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) - Good news for medical patients with prescription medication. Intermountain Healthcare announced Thursday morning they will start a not-for-profit generic drug company.

Calling it a "shake-up" and "game-changer" in the production and pricing of generic medications, officials at Intermountain said the new company intends to be an FDA-approved manufacturer, providing patients an affordable alternative to products from generic drug companies "whose capricious and unfair pricing practices are damaging the generic drug market and hurting consumers."

Dr. Marc Harrison, President and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare, said in a press conference Thursday morning the new company will seek to stabilize the supply of essential generic medications administered in hospitals, many of which have fallen into chronic shortage. He said this will result in lower costs and more predictable supplies of essential generic medicines.

"We, in many instances, don't trust the people who are supplying our own facilities. They run into shortages. We can't rely on whether the prices are going to double tomorrow or not," said Dan Liljenquist, Vice President for the Enterprise Initiative Office at Intermountain Healthcare.

Officials said certain generic drug manufacturers have been widely criticized for arbitrary price increases and creating artificial shortages of vital medications. As a result, some generic drugs have increased in cost by more than 1,000 percent in just a few months.

"The thing that's heartbreaking. This is a social justice issue. When there's a medication that is selling for 7 cents a pill in India, but it's $750 a pill here. What if your daughter has toxoplasmosis and she doesn't get pyrimethamine? She'll die," said Liljenquist.

Elana Cohen, a pharmacy patient, expressed frustration when asked about the cost of prescription medication.

"So many United States citizens are working so hard for the money that they make. To know that these pharmaceutical companies so readily and quickly are willing to 'rob us' of our salaries to have to go towards our health insurance, on top of the money we're already paying for health insurance costs. It's just truly a disgusting process," said Cohen.

Cohen said her mother was diagnosed with cancer last year and experienced the high costs of prescription medication.

"Looking at what she had to pay for these medications and also looking at fellow friends who have fallen ill...usually cancer is a big one where the pharmaceutical companies really take prey of their clients and charge them thousands upon thousands of dollars," said Cohen. "I have several friends who have had to start fundraisers for their parents just to be able to afford the medication that they need to attempt to save their lives."

After finding out about Intermountain's new drug company, she said she believes more lives will be saved.

"To know that Intermountain is willing to take this on and advocate for their clients in a way that makes these medications that are absolutely life-saving at certain points, for more affordable for their clients is not only heartwarming, it's empowering. It's the good news at the end of the day that I think will allow many people to get better that much faster, stress-free," said Cohen.

Intermountain officials said they expect some obstacles along the way.

"We expect a competitive response from certainly the players in this market. Some of them have proved to be very, very aggressive," said Liljenquist. "But at the same time, we're going to combat that by partnering with health systems across the country. We have 450 hospitals joining us."

The collaboration includes Ascension, SSM Health, Trinity Health, and consultation with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

An advisory committee will guide the formation of the new not-for-profit generic drug company. Liljenquist said it could take more than six months before they release additional details about the company.

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