Pharma Execs Shift Blame in Senate Hearing on Drug Prices

On February 26, executives from seven pharmaceutical giants testified before Congress in a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the high prices of brand-name prescription drugs in the U.S.

CEOs from AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, and Sanofi – together representing $140 billion in U.S. revenue – defended the value of the drugs they manufacture and cited high research-and-development costs as the reason for continued price increases.

The drug manufacturers also shifted the blame to the wider U.S. health-care system, including pharmacy benefit managers who negotiate for rebates and other payments that aren’t passed on to consumers. However, the leaders could not explain why the cost of brand-name drugs is greater in the U.S. than in other developed countries.

Tensions ran high in the three-hour meeting chaired by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) who, according to The New York Times, set the tone with a declaration that the practices of the pharmaceutical industry “thwart the laws and regulations designed to promote competition.” Bipartisan support for significant changes to the industry was on display, suggesting a first step toward legislation to provide relief for consumers.

“If you don’t take meaningful action to reduce prescription drug prices,” warned Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) “policymakers are going to do it for you.”

Sources: The New York Times, February 26, 2019; The Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2019.