US firms agree to checks on cost of drugs

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NEW YORK - Pharmaceutical companies, worried about US government threats to regulate drug prices, have agreed to allow a public body to verify voluntary price restraints, writes Larry Black.

But the drug makers remain opposed to legislation holding increases to the rate of inflation, and want assurances that the process will be confidential.

'We have no problem with any mechanism that would allow verification of price-increase data, as long as it doesn't concern itself with the specific pricing structure of specific products,' said a spokesman for Glaxo Inc, a subsidiary of Glaxo and America's second-largest marketer of drugs.

American drug prices rose at triple the inflation rate during the 1980s, making the industry an easy first target for President Bill Clinton in his crusade to reform the healthcare system, although pharmaceuticals account for only 5 per cent of medical costs.

A number of leading companies say they have held average price increases below the inflation rate for two years, employing outside auditors to certify their claims. Others have resisted such moves, but the industry's trade group decided last weekend that it had to offer some concessions.