Washington, D.C. – At today’s Senate Finance Committee hearing on drug pricing, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) questioned executives from seven pharmaceutical companies on whether they’re playing by the rules and ensuring fairness for taxpayers, prioritizing investments in the research and development of new medicines, and on what steps they are taking to lower prescription drug prices and improve health outcomes for all patients, no matter their income level.
Cortez Masto questioned the witnesses about their practices of selling brand name drugs to consumers, even when they also offer a cheaper, generic version of the drug: “Authorized generics are drugs that are identical to the brand and manufactured by the brand, but without the brand on its label. Yet the companies keep selling the higher cost brand drug to consumers, who according to press reports, don’t realize that the same product from the same company is available at a better price. For those of you that have authorized generics, why do you continue selling the brand?”
In response, Kenneth C. Frazier, Chairman and CEO of Merck & Co., Inc., stated that at the end of the day “if patients really understood what their options were, they wouldn’t make these choices, but we have an opaque system”.
When pressed by Cortez Masto on what pharmaceutical companies like Merck are doing to “empower patients to understand that cheaper options are out there”, Mr. Frazier responded that pharmaceutical companies “don’t connect with the patients”, and rely on pharmacists and others to educate patients on their options.
Cortez Masto also asked the witnesses if they would support drug pricing transparency policies: “Democrats for example have proposed to require manufactures to submit advance justification for price hikes that outpace inflation, and make that information public. Given that many of you have already committed to tapering price hikes, is this something you could support?”
All witnesses on the panel indicated support for increased pricing transparency, an issue Senator Cortez Masto has focused on as a legislative priority, though Jennifer Taubert, Executive Vice President and Worldwide Chairman of Johnson and Johnson Pharmaceuticals, expressed reservations.