A report from Washington correspondent Conrad Wilson:
WASHINGTON – Sen. Amy Klobuchar got busy writing letters last week calling for not one, but two investigations.
In a letter sent Thursday to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the Democratic senator called for the creation of an oil and gas market task force to investigate the increasing price of fuel.
Klobuchar noted that state attorney generals and energy market experts have told Congress that the high fuel prices can’t be explained my market forces.
“In my state of Minnesota, farmers are paying record-high prices for fertilizer and fuel,” Klobuchar wrote in her letter. “The timber and chemical industries are suffering from the rising cost of natural gas. And families are being forced to make increasingly difficult budget choices — for example, between filling prescriptions and heating their homes.
“These are choices no family should have to make.”
On Friday, Klobuchar wrote the Federal Trade Commission urging officials there to look into possible price gouging by OVATION Pharmaceuticals.
A drug called intravenous indomethacin, a.k.a. Indocin I.V., is important for premature babies and has increased in price 18 fold since OVATION got the rights in 2005, according to Klobuchar’s office.
The drug helps infants with a heart condition called patent ductus areriosis (PDA). A release from Klobuchar’s office notes that OVATION owns the rights to intravenous ibuprofen, the only other drug that the Food and Drug Administration has approved to treat the condition.
This raises “questions whether the company’s purchase of Indocin I.V. and pricing structure is a move to corner the market for available drugs to treat PDA and will eventually lead to a monopolization of nonsurgical treatments for PDA,” the release argues.
OVATION said that Klobucharâ€™s critiques betray a lack of understanding.
Before OVATION purchased Indocin I.V. in 2005 the product was often unavailable, leaving a costly surgery as the only alternative, said Sally Benjamin Young, vice president of communications for OVATION.
The market for PDA is small, with about 30,000 babies affected.
Young also noted that the patent for Indocin I.V. expired in 1981. â€œAny generic could come in at any time,” Young said. “Thereâ€™s been no patent protection for this product.”
As for the price increases – which occurred two years ago – Young said that many of the upgrades were necessary and mandated by the FDA.
“This company is exploiting a life-saving drug to engage in price-gouging at the expense of vulnerable, premature babies,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “Even though it’s an American company, the price they charge in the U.S. is actually 44 times higher than what they sell it for in Canada. Nothing can justify that kind of huge price disparity.”
Young responded: â€œNo baby that we know of have gone without this drug. No child has been denied treatment because of these price increases. â€¦ Nobody else is paying attention to PDA; itâ€™s a very small market.â€