CSRxP: Senate Judiciary Lawmakers Grill Big Pharma, Demonstrate Bipartisan Commitment To Action

May 7, 2019

Washington, D.C. – The Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing (CSRxP) today released a statement commending the Senate Committee on the Judiciary for holding a hearing on the role of patent abuse in increasing prescription drug prices.  Senators, from both sides of the aisle, grilled a witness representing large pharmaceutical manufacturers, expressed their commitment to action and voiced support for market-based solutions like the CREATES Act.

“Big Pharma’s abuse of the patent system to crowd out competition empowers the industry’s price-gouging that hurts American patients and taxpayers,” said CSRxP executive director Lauren Aronson.  “We applaud Chairman Graham, Ranking Member Feinstein, Senator Cornyn and all the members of the committee for participating in this critical hearing to start holding Big Pharma accountable and begin the process of advancing market-based solutions to boost competition.”

“Senators, from both sides of the aisle, demonstrated a strong, bipartisan commitment to lowering drug prices by cracking down on Big Pharma’s anti-competitive practices,” Aronson added.  “The building, bipartisan momentum for concrete action offers fresh reason for optimism that relief is on the way for American patients.”

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman: “We’re going to dig deep and we got a bunch of bills, in a bipartisan fashion, that have been developed and I expect us to do something on patents and prescription drugs this year.  I don’t know where the sweet spot is but doing nothing is unacceptable.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Ranking Member: “Brand name drugs account for only 10 percent of prescriptions filled in this country but they account for 77 percent of all drug spending.  High prices for needed medications, I think, can pose significant health and financial difficulties for American families.  And so, we really have to take a good look at this and the profit margin as well.  High prescription drug costs force seniors to choose between food and medicine, and yes it really happens … This is wrong and we have to do more to address this growing problem.”

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX): “Let me put a little meat on the bone here … the patents on the main active ingredient [in Revlimid] were filed in 1996.  Other patents for new forms of the active ingredient, new dosage regimens and new methods aren’t set to expire until 2023 or 2027.  And still more patent applications that are pending, if granted, won’t expire until the mid 2030s.  Is there anyone on the panel who would like to defend the status quo? … Is there anything that we can or should do when so many different patents are filed on products that aren’t exactly innovative anymore but have been on the market for years and years?  Doesn’t this strike you as anticompetitive?”

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT): “The very full attendance by this committee I think attests to the importance the American people give to this topic … The American people are fed up with abuses of this system that give new meaning to the term unintended consequences.  These laws may have very good intentions in encouraging innovation and rewarding companies that take the risks, there are real risks, that involve invention and innovation. But unfortunately, those laws have been abused and consumers know firsthand.  That’s the reason why every time this topic is polled it’s at the very, very top of consumer concerns.  And that is also the reason why we have so many proposals that are bipartisan.  This topic truly is bipartisan.  We’re talking here about monopolistic practices that would make the barons of the gilded age blush, literally, because they are so calculated and cleverly designed to achieve monopolistic dominance …”

Senator Joshua Hawley (R-MO): “It’s good to have a policy that promotes innovation … but the real question is, who’s going to pay for that innovation? … And the problem now is, the people who are paying for that innovation are those that are the sickest.  It’s those who go virtually bankrupt because they can’t choose when they get sick and they get stuck with footing the bill for the innovation for not just the rest of us, but for the rest of the world.”

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL): “Innovation.  It appears there’s more innovation among lawyers dealing with patents than medical researchers.  I cannot believe that what we started off with in the Constitution with a patent right … has now been so convoluted and distorted that we’ve reached the point we’ve reached today … I think we are dangerously close to building a bipartisan consensus about change – rarely happens around here.  But it may just happen in this circumstance.”

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA): “Since joining the Senate I have heard, literally heard from at least one person in every single one of our 99 counties who are struggling to make ends meet as a direct result of the cost of their medications … There are Iowans who will live deciding whether or not to make a mortgage payment, a car payment, or actually purchase their medication.  Many of them are skipping meals, this is the real deal … We do need robust competition, I do believe that, on the drug market that will help drive prices down.  But there are some pharmaceutical companies who use regulatory and legal systems to their advantage and they do block competition.  Man, we’ve heard about it all day, all day today.  And often these anti-competitive practices, they are stifling competition and preventing Americans from accessing more affordable drugs.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI): “Touching just for a minute on PBMs, I just have to compliment pharma on the masterpiece of political deflection that they have done switching the issue from pharma prices to pharmacy benefit managers when pharmacy benefit managers are probably the most thoughtful, determined, well-resourced antagonists to high pharmaceutical pricing out there in the system.  I mean this is really kind of an epic political maneuver that has been pulled off.  $323 billion in net revenues to pharma, $23 billion net revenues to the PBMs and they’ve managed to make PBMs the problem … but the idea that that’s the place where the problem is, rather than $323 billion, I got to hand it to you, you guys pulled a super-fast one.”

Many Senators echoed Chairman Graham’s comments in support of the CREATES Act: “[The CREATES Act] is at the desk.  It’s been cleared by the committee.  I think we should all agree, let’s vote.  Yeah, so let’s vote.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN): “I think the time is long past for us to pass these bills.  Some of them are bi-partisan as has been pointed out, I appreciated the work that Senator Grassley and I have done together along with others on the CREATES Act.”

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI): “I think that there is support for getting more generics into the market and one of the ways that we can do that is with the CREATES Act … It’s great to have unanimity on the panel.”