Breathing relief: AstraZeneca joins movement to cap US inhaler costs amid Senate scrutiny

Following Boehringer Ingelheim's lead, AstraZeneca pledges affordable respiratory care in the U.S., sparking calls for industry-wide reform.


A landmark announcement emerged from AstraZeneca on Monday, setting a new precedent for pharmaceutical giants in the United States. The drugmaker committed to capping out-of-pocket costs for its inhaled respiratory products at $35 per month, a move that mirrors earlier actions by Boehringer Ingelheim and responds to growing calls for affordable healthcare solutions.

This policy change, slated to take effect in June, marks a significant shift in the landscape of drug pricing, particularly for respiratory care medications. It comes at a time when high drug prices in the U.S. have drawn increasing attention, not just from the public but also from the political arena, spearheaded by figures like Senator Bernie Sanders.

The backdrop to AstraZeneca’s decision is a broader narrative of scrutiny and investigation led by lawmakers, including Sanders, who have taken the top inhaler manufacturers in the U.S. to task. The Senate’s probe into the disparity in inhaler prices between the U.S. and other countries adds a critical layer to this unfolding story, highlighting the financial burden shouldered by American patients.

AstraZeneca’s policy will encompass all its respiratory products, offering a financial lifeline to patients grappling with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), particularly those uninsured or underinsured. “This is a very positive step which will help save Americans thousands of dollars a year on the inhalers they need to breathe,” Sanders commented, lauding the decision.

Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, underscored the company’s commitment to medication affordability but pointed to the complexity of the healthcare system. “It is critical that Congress bring together key stakeholders to help reform the healthcare system so patients can afford the medicines they need,” Soriot emphasized, calling for a collaborative approach to healthcare reform.

The move by AstraZeneca and Boehringer Ingelheim to cap inhaler costs at $35 reflects a potential industry-wide shift towards more equitable pricing models. The price comparison of AstraZeneca’s Breztri Aerosphere — $645 in the U.S. versus $49 in the UK — starkly illustrates the pricing disparities that have fueled the demand for change.

Sanders’ call to action extends beyond AstraZeneca and Boehringer, challenging other key players in the pharmaceutical industry, such as Teva and GSK, to follow suit. The Senator’s stance is clear: if some companies can implement a cap on inhaler costs, there is no reason why others cannot adopt similar measures to alleviate the financial strain on American patients.

The investigation by Sanders and his Senate colleagues, backed by a commitment to overhaul drug pricing in the U.S., signals a pivotal moment in the fight for fair drug pricing. The scrutiny extends to other significant market players, with Sanders urging Teva and GSK to take comparable steps towards pricing reform.

In the broader context, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also stepped into the arena, disputing patents held by pharmaceutical firms that contribute to exorbitant drug pricing. The FTC’s challenge to these patents, including those related to Symbicort, an AstraZeneca product, reinforces the momentum towards more accessible healthcare.

FTC Chair Lina Khan echoed the call for pricing reform, urging companies implicated in the patent disputes to reconsider their pricing strategies to benefit American consumers. This collective push from governmental and regulatory bodies underscores a unified front against the prohibitive cost of essential medications.

As AstraZeneca sets the stage for a new chapter in drug pricing, the response from other pharmaceutical companies remains a focal point of anticipation and speculation. The industry stands at a crossroads, with the potential for widespread change in how medications are priced and accessed in the United States.

The narrative of drug pricing reform is complex, woven with threads of political action, corporate responsibility, and public advocacy. AstraZeneca’s announcement is more than a policy change; it’s a signal to the healthcare industry and policymakers alike that the status quo is untenable. The path forward demands collaboration, transparency, and a steadfast commitment to ensuring that no patient is left behind due to financial constraints.

In January, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions that I chair launched an investigation into the outrageously high cost of inhalers that 25 million Americans with asthma and 16 million Americans with COPD rely on to breathe,” said Senator Sanders. “In my view, Americans who have asthma and COPD should not be forced to pay up to 70 times more for the same exact inhalers as patients in Europe and other major parts of the world are being charged.

Today, I am very pleased that some important progress is being made to make inhalers more affordable to patients who desperately need them in our country.”


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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.