Top drug company executives answer questions over rising drug prices

WASHINGTON – Senators are questioning top executives of seven pharmaceutical companies about the spiraling cost of prescription drugs that an increasing number of Americans find unaffordable.

“We’re all trying to understand the sticker shock that many drugs generate,” said Sen. Chuch Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “There is a balance between incentivizing innovation and keeping prices affordable for consumers and taxpayers.”

Top executives of Pfizer, Merck, AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi were scheduled to testify before the panel on Tuesday.

“Whether it’s about EpiPen, insulin or other prescriptions, in the thousands of letters I’ve received, Iowans have made clear that high drug prices are hurting them,” Grassley said. “I’ve heard about people skipping doses of their prescription drugs to make them last until the next paycheck. …

“Today, we expect open, honest answers from the pharmaceutical industry to figure out how we got here and see what ideas they have to make things better.”

It’s the first time the top pharmaceutical executives have appeared before a congressional committee to answer questions on prescription drug prices.

“I was there when seven Big Tobacco CEOs testified in a committee room just like this one,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the committee’s top Democrat. “They lied that day.

“This committee, we expect better than that this morning,” Wyden said. “It is long past time to drop the excuses and take concrete action to make medicine in America more affordable.”

More: Congress to square off against pharmaceutical CEOs in showdown over drug prices

More: Democrats examine drug prices, a first step in Congress’ path to cut prescription costs

More: Pharmaceutical industry’s promises to cut drug prices have been heard before

The drug industry and its main lobbying group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, have avoided efforts to curb drug prices.

The drug industry defeated efforts  to import less-expensive versions of the brand-name drugs sold in other nations. The industry was an early supporter of the Affordable Care Act and avoided negotiating drug prices for Medicare recipients.

But the Trump administration might have found an ally on drug prices in congressional Democrats.

The industry and its supporters say the cost of prescription drugs is rising because the population is growing older and demand is increasing. More than half of Americans has been prescribed a drug.

The industry says insurance plans that cover less and pharmacy-benefit managers who serve as middlemen also deserve scrutiny.

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