Want Congressional bipartisanship? Talk about cutting drug prices!

Senate and House committees begin the legislative process for addressing drug pricing


With the new Congress up and running, it is to be expected that the Democratic-controlled House will be tearing into pharma industry pricing policies, given that many of its members campaigned on just that theme. But it’s a little surprising to see the same animus in the Senate where, on Jan. 29, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), chair of the Finance Committee, opened “a series of hearings” on pricing with harsh words for the industry: “Tackling high prescription drug costs is one of my first priorities as Chairman,” he said, while stating his approval of the proposed HHS plan to require pharma companies to disclose list prices in their advertising.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), ranking minority member of the committee, was more explicit: “The crisis of prescription drug costs threatens too many lives and bankrupts too many people for the Congress to tolerate this ducking and weaving by the companies that caused it.”

On the same day, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, opened a hearing on drug pricing, “to focus on one of the biggest problems facing American families across the country—the actions of drug companies that have been aggressively increasing prices on existing drugs and setting higher launch prices for new drugs, all while recording windfall profits.”

These hearings, and the anti-industry animus, are no surprise, given the attention paid both by the White House and Congress last year on the topic. The new Congress is at least starting out with a fresh impetus to do something, and it remains to be seen whether the industry’s traditional strategy of highlighting the cost of drug research as a necessary starting point for where drug prices wind up will continue to hold water. A secondary stance, rising over the past year, has been to point a finger at pharmacy benefit managers and insurers for drug costs.