The leaders of three major pharmaceutical companies appeared before the Senate Health Committee on Thursday to defend drug prices in the United States, drawing them further into a showdown with lawmakers and the Biden administration over the cost of some of the most widely used prescription drugs.
The three executives who testified — Joaquin Duato of Johnson & Johnson, Robert M. Davis of Merck and Christopher Boerner of Bristol Myers Squibb — are expected to face off with the health committee chairman, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who ensured that drug control was under control. prize a flagship cause of his last years of career in Congress.
Mr. Sanders focused the hearing on why drug prices are higher in the United States than in other wealthy countries. His team identified several widely used drugs, including Eliquis, a blood thinner made by Bristol Myers Squibb, and Januvia, a diabetes drug from Merck, which can be purchased much cheaper in Canada and Europe than in the United States. -United.
Drugmakers “are doing incredibly well while Americans can't afford the cost of the drugs they need,” Mr. Sanders said in his opening remarks, adding that “the main beneficiary of these high prices of medicines is the pharmaceutical industry.
The hearing comes as a new federal program allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for certain high-cost drugs is being implemented. Federal health officials last week made their initial offers to the makers of the first 10 drugs selected for negotiations, a list that includes Eliquis and Januvia.
Five of the ten drugs selected for price negotiations are manufactured by the companies whose executives are testifying Thursday. Drugmakers, including the three companies that will be represented at the hearing, have filed a series of lawsuits arguing that the negotiating program is unconstitutional.
Mr. Sanders accused pharmaceutical executives of profiting unfairly from popular drugs at the expense of Americans who struggle to pay for their prescriptions. He suggested that companies use these drugs to enrich their executives and shareholders.
Two of the pharmaceutical executives, Mr. Duato of Johnson & Johnson and Mr. Davis of Merck, agreed to testify after being threatened with subpoenas. Mr. Sanders had planned to hold a committee vote last week on whether to release them, but leaders agreed to appear at the hearing before such a vote took place. The two companies suggested last month that Mr. Sanders sought to retaliate against lawsuits they had filed challenging Medicare's price negotiation program.
In his opening statement, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, the committee's top Republican,
said the panel's strategy had been to “threaten a subpoena when CEOs suspect they won't get a fair chance, hold the hearing, get sound bites, then choose a another group of CEOs for a show trial.”
“But we're not passing meaningful legislation,” he said, adding, “I don't want the committee to turn into a CEO Whac-a-Mole.”
Brand drug prices in the United States in 2022 were at least three times higher than those in 33 other wealthy countries, a recent report funded by the Department of Health and Human Services foundeven accounting for discounts that can reduce the amount paid by U.S. health plans and employers.
Comparing drug prices in the United States with those in other countries can be tricky because the health care systems are very different. In the United States, drug price negotiations are fragmented among tens of thousands of health plans and employers, while European countries rely on a centralized negotiator. And although many prescription drugs can be purchased at a much lower price at European pharmacies, European countries do not necessarily offer their citizens broad insurance coverage for these drugs.
Sarah Ryan, a spokeswoman for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry's main lobbying group, said in a statement that new drugs are arriving faster in the United States than in any other country. She blamed middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers for the high costs Americans face.
The three executives who testified Thursday are the latest to appear before Mr. Sanders since he became chairman of the health committee early last year. In March, Moderna CEO testified about the price of his company's Covid-19 vaccineand the chief executives of three major insulin makers — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi — appeared before the committee during a hearing in May.
Michelle Mello, a health policy expert at Stanford Law School, said lawmakers could use the hearing to build momentum around new drug pricing legislation, like expanding the bargaining program Medicare prices to cover more drugs.
“We could do so much more with this tool,” she said.