WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee on Monday announced its second drug pricing hearing of 2019, with its leadership insisting on attendance from the executives of seven major drug manufacturers: AbbVie (ABBV), AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Pfizer (PFE), and Sanofi (SNY).
At a hearing last week, both Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) expressed disappointment that pharmaceutical company executives had declined their invitations to testify. Grassley, the committee chairman, said then he would be “more insistent” that executives show up at a subsequent hearing.
“Pharmaceutical companies receive billions of dollars a year from federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid,” Grassley and Wyden said. “This is an opportunity for companies that produce life-saving treatments to explain how they price these treatments and whether the status quo is acceptable. Patients and taxpayers deserve to hear from leaders in the industry about what’s behind this unsustainable trend and what can be done to lower costs.”
Of the seven companies invited, five are already the subject of a separate investigation being conducted by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
The hearing will take place on Feb. 26, nearly a month after an initial hearing at which policy experts testified to a wide range of government or market interventions that could yield lower drug costs. It will be at least the fourth hearing in the new Congress to focus on drug costs.
The hearing announcement came the night before President Trump’s second State of the Union address, in which the president is expected to call on Congress to support legislation in line with his health department’s work on drug prices. Last week, health secretary Alex Azar rolled out an ambitious proposal to end rebates drug makers pay to insurers, and called on Congress to pass supporting legislation.
Lawmakers are split on the proposal. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), among the most powerful Republicans on Capitol Hill, strongly supported the Azar proposal when it was announced. Reps. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) — the chairmen of the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees, respectively — said they opposed the proposal because it would increase premiums for Medicare beneficiaries.
Separately, Grassley and Wyden introduced legislation in December that aims to “recoup millions” from a “pharma ripoff” by empowering Medicaid to more aggressively police the classification of brand-name drugs as generics. With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives and Trump’s White House active on pharmaceutical industry issues, Grassley’s committee is generally seen as a wild card.
While he has stopped short of crossing Republican red lines like allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, Grassley has taken a nearly opposite tone on the industry and has introduced a series of bipartisan legislation ranging from his efforts with Wyden to a bill with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to allow personal importation of some cheaper drugs across the Canadian border.