Senators Press Pharmaceutical CEOs To Justify Sky-High Drug Costs

( – Pharma industry bosses have come under fire at a Senate committee hearing as lawmakers pressed them to justify the high prices they charge for drugs. Although US pharma companies are world leaders and supply healthcare in many countries, US consumers pay the highest price for them. Some senators don’t think that’s fair.

On February 8, the CEOs of three leading drug companies—Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Bristol Myers Squibb—appeared in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The committee chairman, antique socialist Bernie Sanders (I-VT), led a merciless grilling on the high and rising prices Americans pay for medication. Two days earlier, the committee had released a report showing that, in the last four years, the price of new drugs produced by those three companies had rocketed compared to 20 years ago. More disturbingly, the RAND Corporation also found that drugs cost more in the US than in other countries. For example, Merck’s Keytruda is an innovative anti-cancer drug that can treat inoperable tumors; a course of it costs $191,000 a year in the US compared to $112,000 in Canada and just $44,000 in Japan. Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) has a “confidential” pricing deal for the medication.

Merck CEO Chris Boerner admitted that drugs cost more in the US, but he says that’s not his company’s fault; he claims the price is “driven up by the incentives of intermediaries,” meaning pharmacy benefit managers, who form the link between drug companies and health insurers. Boerner said he’d be happy to work with Congress to reduce those extra costs, but experts say that while Boerner is right to blame managers for high prices, the system still benefits pharma companies. Sanders claims that one in four Americans who receive a prescription can’t afford to fill it. Lower prices would help fix that problem if they could be delivered.

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