They Said It: Senators Slam Big Pharma CEOs For Price Gouging, Anti-Competitive Tactics

Feb 27, 2019

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance held its second hearing on drug pricing of the new Congress.  Committee members, of both parties, used their time to emphasize the real and often gut-wrenching effects of rising drug prices on their constituents and reprimand the executives of the seven large pharmaceutical manufacturers present for their price gouging and anti-competitive practices.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman: “America has a problem with the high cost of prescription drug prices … In the thousands of letters, Iowans have made clear that high drug prices are hurting.  I’ve heard from people about skipping doses to make them last until the next paycheck.  I’m not a doctor, but rationing one’s medicine doesn’t sound like a safe prescription for health and wellness that Americans want.  Others have told me about leaving their prescription on the pharmacy counter because it costs too much.  We all understand the sticker shock that many drugs generate, especially when some of these drugs have been around for a long, long time.”

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ranking Member: “I just want you all to know that the number one reason consumers are getting hammered is because these list prices, which you have the last word with respect with, where they are, are unaffordable, and the high prices are tied to what the consumer pays at the pharmacy counter.  And all this other stuff you talk about, the rebate, and the discounts and the coupons, all this other stuff is window dressing.  All of it.”

Senator James Lankford (R-OK): “People in my state, whether they’re on insulin, whether they’re on Parkinson drugs, whether they’re my own family or other people in my neighborhood, it’s a very significant issue for them to try to figure out how to manage – so we have to get to the bottom of how we manage this.”

Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO): “There is not a town hall in Colorado where I don’t hear how expensive drugs are forcing people to choose between life-saving treatments or food and utilities … I’m trying to understand how federal spending goes into prescription drug development, distribution, treatments and pricing, and yet Americans can’t afford their medications.”

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) pledged to keep the momentum for answers and solutions in Congress going by pursuing action on patent abuse by drug makers on the judiciary committee.

“Mr. Chairman can I just make a suggestion that, I know [the issue of drug patents] is … within the jurisdiction of the finance committee, but those of us like you and me who are also on the judiciary committee that has jurisdiction over the patent system, I think this is an area we need to look in through the judiciary committee as well.”

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) noted the momentum to take action on rising drug prices transcends partisan boundaries.

“Americans everywhere reject the notion that reducing prescription drug costs means reducing innovation.  They’re uniting around this issue and it isn’t a Democratic or a Republican priority – it’s bipartisan.”

Senators on the committee also criticized drug makers, noting pharmaceutical manufacturers benefit from some of the highest profit margins of any industry and receive substantial subsidies from American taxpayers in the form of research grants, tax deductions and federal safety net spending.

Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA): “I’ll also say that some of my patients could not afford the medicine.  And for them it is as if the innovation never took place.”

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI): “Let me just say, I think that you charge more here because you can, and American taxpayers are subsidizing all of you to be able to have incredibly high profits, the fastest growing part of the healthcare system and I think the people in Michigan and across the country deserve better.  They need to be able to afford the medicine and not have to go to another country to get it.”

Senator Steve Daines (R-MT): “Is it fair to say the list price is really a starting point for then a negotiation? … Anybody disagree with that premise? … What are the incentives that contribute to high list prices that are being paid by those who can afford it the least? … So why do we have a system today where you all are setting, I’ll just say it, very very high list prices which is a starting point for negotiation? Why?”

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH): “Taxpayers subsidize your research, subsidize your marketing, you continue to raise list prices.  The median income of the person on Medicare is $26,000.  The average annual cost for a single specialty medication was more than $52,000 in 2015.  Americans can’t afford to pay for prescription drugs that cost more money than they make in a year.”

The Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing (CSRxP) applauds the members of the Senate Committee on Finance who participated in the hearing Tuesday and asked tough questions to hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable.  Congress must now capitalize on the bipartisan momentum on the issue of rising drug prices to pass market-based reforms to increase competition and transparency, and crack down on anti-competitive tactics and price gouging.