The leaders of seven major pharmaceutical companies have been called to testify before the Senate Finance Committee, on the topic of drug prices. The committee is led by Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Wyden of Oregon, who argue that prescription drug costs have climbed too high and the rate at which prices are increasing is “unsustainable.” Unlike other countries, American drugmakers do not negotiate drug prices with the federal government.
The CEOs of AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, Pfizer and Sanofi, as well as Johnson & Johnson’s company group chairperson for pharmaceuticals in the Americas, have been sent to Capitol Hill to speak to lawmakers about this issue. These seven companies have a collective market value of $1.13 trillion.
Many pharmaceutical companies have blamed pharmacy benefit managers—those who negotiate discounts with the manufacturers—for increases in prescription drug costs, and also say that price cuts could affect their companies’ R&D initiatives and the development of new treatments for disease and illness. During the Congressional hearing, the pharma executives pointed out that rebates play a role in high prescription drug prices, and the Trump administration has pitched a proposal that would abolish certain rebates drug makers pay insurance companies in Medicare, in an effort to lower prices.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourl touted his company’s advancements in the treatment of breast and lung cancers, as well as leukemia, meningitis B and the development of a non-opioid pain treatment. “All of these breakthroughs won’t do anyone any good if patients can’t afford them,” Bourla said. “Our healthcare system is broken, and we need to fix it.”
Senator Grassley countered with, “We’ve all seen the finger-pointing. Every link in the supply chain has gotten skilled at that … but like most Americans, I’m sick and tired of the blame game. It’s time for solutions.” Senator Wyden added that drug prices in the U.S. “did not become outrageously expensive by accident” but are “astronomically high because that’s where pharmaceutical companies and their investors want them.”
Both the White House and the House of Representatives’ Democratic majority have addressed the need to get drug pricing under control, making it a rare bipartisan issue in Washington. The situation is certainly frustrating and complex, and will take serious work and cooperation to solve.