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Consumers are angry over the cost of prescriptions, and now all three branches of the federal government are taking action.

On Wednesday, a pair of US senators launched an investigation into companies that buy medicines and then raise prices to previously unforeseen heights. Their targets include Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Martin Shkreli’s Turing Pharmaceuticals. The senators — Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri — head the Senate Special Committee on Aging, which plans to hold a hearing on drug prices on Dec. 9.


“We need to get to the bottom of why we’re seeing huge spikes in drug prices that seemingly have no relationship to research and development costs,” said McCaskill in a statement.

Meanwhile, in the House, several Democrats formed a new task force on Wednesday to examine drug pricing. And all 18 Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wrote a letter to committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz to insist he schedule a vote for issuing subpoenas for Turing and Valeant to disclose pricing information.

Separately, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, announced plans on Tuesday to hold a daylong conference on Nov. 20 to look at ways of speeding the discovery of innovative drugs. The forum will also discuss how medicines can be made more affordable.


The moves reflect widespread concern about prescription drug costs. Last week, a poll found that 77 percent of Americans want the White House and Congress to ensure that expensive drugs for treating chronic conditions are affordable. And 63 percent want government action to lower drug prices, in general, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

Among the issues the Senate committee and the new House task force plan to examine are price increases on recently acquired drugs that have lost patent protection, and mergers and acquisitions that have sometimes led to dramatic increases on these drugs.