Feb. 26, 2019
As Americans Suffer Pharma’s Outrageous Prices, Prescription Executives Have a Mostly Polite Discussion with U.S. Senators at Hearing
Statement of Peter Maybarduk, Director, Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program
Note: The CEOs of seven major prescription companies – AbbVie Inc., AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Inc., Pfizer and Sanofi – answered questions from U.S. senators on the Finance Committee on Tuesday.
This was not the tobacco execs hearing of yesteryear.
This was not the reckoning that the pharmaceutical industry deserves.
Instead, too many members of the Senate Finance Committee allowed pharmaceutical executives to lead them down a byzantine maze of programs and payment decisions. Pharma witnesses obfuscated the view of a path to affordable medicine: Challenging the industry’s monopoly power.
Medicine pricing is complex by industry design. The core issue is simple: Unchecked monopoly power produces medicines that are out of reach for consumers. Complexity flows from lawmakers’ unwillingness to address that issue head on. The rest of our health care system makes convoluted efforts to achieve modest reductions within a fundamentally unworkable system. With exclusive control over a needed medicine, minimal disciplines on price and no government negotiation for Medicare Part D, corporations of course charge the maximum that society will pay to care for our loved ones.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) proved a notable exception, and indeed his Stop Price Gouging Act and Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act are two of the essential reforms needed to curb the standard industry practice of annual medicine spikes.
It is not realistic to ask pharmaceutical executives for their cooperation or to lead us through the maze they intentionally helped build. Congress needs to take the straight path to affordable medicine, and that means leaving behind corporate whisperers that would happily see Congress lost in the maze forever.