Underneath Bernie Sanders’s Glare, Pharmaceutical Chiefs Testify on Drug Costs


The chief executives of three main pharmaceutical firms appeared in entrance of the Senate well being committee on Thursday to defend how a lot they cost for medication in the USA, drawing them additional right into a confrontation with lawmakers and the Biden administration over the price of a few of the most generally used prescription medicines.

The three executives testifying — Joaquin Duato of Johnson & Johnson, Robert M. Davis of Merck and Christopher Boerner of Bristol Myers Squibb — are anticipated to conflict with the well being committee’s chairman, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an unbiased who has made reining in drug costs a signature trigger of his late-career years in Congress.

Mr. Sanders centered the listening to on why drug costs are increased in the USA than in different rich nations. His workers has singled out a number of extensively used medication, together with Eliquis, a blood thinner made by Bristol Myers Squibb, and Januvia, a diabetes drug from Merck, that may be purchased for a lot much less in Canada and Europe than in the USA.

Drugmakers “are doing phenomenally properly whereas People can not afford the price of the drugs they want,” Mr. Sanders stated in his opening assertion, including that the “overwhelming beneficiary of those excessive drug costs is the pharmaceutical business.”

The listening to comes as a brand new federal program authorizing Medicare to barter the costs of some pricey medicines is getting underway. Federal well being officers final week made their preliminary gives to the makers of the primary 10 medication chosen for negotiations, an inventory that features Eliquis and Januvia.

5 of the ten medication picked for worth talks are made by the businesses whose executives are testifying on Thursday. Drug makers, together with all three firms that can be represented on the listening to, have filed a flurry of lawsuits arguing that the negotiation program is unconstitutional.

Mr. Sanders has accused pharmaceutical executives of unduly cashing in on standard medicines on the expense of People struggling to pay for prescriptions. He has steered that the businesses use the medication to counterpoint their prime executives and stockholders.

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 deliberate to carry a committee vote final week on whether or not to challenge them, however the executives agreed to look on the listening to earlier than such a vote was taken. The 2 firms steered final month that Mr. Sanders was searching for to retaliate for the lawsuits they’d filed difficult the Medicare worth negotiation program.

In his opening assertion, Senator Invoice Cassidy of Louisiana, the highest Republican on the committee,

stated the panel’s technique had been to “threaten a subpoena when C.E.O.s are suspicious that they gained’t get a good shake, maintain the listening to, get sound bites, then decide one other set of C.E.O.s for a present trial.”

“However we don’t cross significant laws,” he stated, including, “I don’t need the committee to devolve right into a C.E.O. Whac-a-Mole.”

Costs for brand-name medication in the USA in 2022 had been at the least thrice as excessive as these in 33 different rich nations, a latest report funded by the Division of Well being and Human Providers discovered, even when considering reductions that may scale back how a lot American well being plans and employers pay.

Evaluating drug costs in the USA with these in different nations could be difficult as a result of the well being care programs are so completely different. In the USA, negotiations over drug costs are fragmented throughout tens of hundreds of well being plans and employers, whereas European nations depend on a centralized negotiator. And whereas many prescribed drugs could be purchased for a lot much less at European pharmacies, European nations don’t essentially provide broad insurance coverage protection for these medication for his or her residents.

Sarah Ryan, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Analysis and Producers of America, or PhRMA, the drug business’s principal lobbying group, stated in a press release that new medicines arrived sooner in the USA than in some other nation. She blamed middlemen often called pharmacy profit managers for top out-of-pocket prices for People.

The three executives testifying on Thursday are the newest to look earlier than Mr. Sanders since he turned the well being committee’s chairman early final yr. In March, Moderna’s chief govt testified concerning the worth of his firm’s Covid-19 vaccine, and the chief executives of three main insulin producers — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi — appeared in entrance of the committee at a listening to in Could.

Michelle Mello, a well being coverage skilled at Stanford Regulation College, stated that lawmakers may use the listening to to construct momentum round additional legislative motion on drug pricing, corresponding to increasing the Medicare worth negotiation program to embody extra medication.

“We might be doing a lot extra with this software,” she stated.



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