Nov 29 (Reuters) - One of the largest U.S. patient assistance charities may close after the federal government revoked its authorization, citing findings that the group, mainly funded by pharmaceutical companies, enabled drugmakers to influence prescriptions.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General notified Caring Voice Coalition in a letter on Tuesday that it would rescind the charity’s 2006 authorization after finding that it may have given drugmakers more ability to raise prices while insulating patients from the immediate effects of increases, leaving federal health care programs like Medicare to bear the cost.
Caring Voice, headquartered in Mechanicsville, Virginia, says it is dedicated to improving the lives of patients with chronic illnesses, including helping them afford costly drugs by covering co-payments and other costs.
In recent months, companies including Pfizer Inc and Johnson and Johnson have announced that they were the subject of a U.S. probe into drugmakers’ financial support of charities offering assistance to patients seeking help to cover out-of-pocket costs. Health insurers, however, still end up paying more for the drugs they cover if prices are increased.
Drug companies are prohibited from subsidizing co-payments for patients enrolled in government healthcare programs like Medicare. But companies may donate to nonprofits providing co-pay assistance as long as they are independent.
Amid increased attention to rising drug prices, concern has arisen that donations from drugmakers to patient-assistance groups may be contributing to price inflation.
The OIG said Caring Voice “has represented it may cease operations,” but the group is not required to close down.
Officials at Caring Voice did not immediately respond to requests for comment. (Reporting By Deena Beasley; Editing by Frances Kerry)