The leaders of three major pharmaceutical companies are configured to appear before the Senate Health Committee on Thursday to defend drug prices in the United States, drawing them further into a showdown with lawmakers and the Biden administration over the cost of some of the most widely used prescription drugs.
The three executives scheduled to testify — Joaquin Duato of Johnson & Johnson, Robert M. Davis of Merck and Christopher Boerner of Bristol Myers Squibb — are expected to clash with the health committee chairman, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who has controlled drug prices, a major cause of his later years in Congress.
Mr. Sanders plans to focus the hearing on why drug prices are higher in the United States than in other wealthy countries. His team identified several widely used drugs, including Eliquis, a blood thinner made by Bristol Myers Squibb, and Januvia, a diabetes drug from Merck, which can be purchased much cheaper in Canada and Europe than in the United States. -United.
The hearing comes as a new federal program allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for certain high-cost drugs is being implemented. Federal health officials last week made their initial offers to the makers of the first 10 drugs selected for negotiations, a list that includes Eliquis and Januvia.
Five of the ten drugs selected for price negotiations are made by the companies whose executives will testify Thursday. Drugmakers, including the three companies that will be represented at the hearing, have filed a series of lawsuits arguing that the negotiating program is unconstitutional.
Mr. Sanders accused pharmaceutical executives of profiting unfairly from popular drugs at the expense of Americans who struggle to pay for their prescriptions. He suggested that companies use these drugs to enrich their executives and shareholders.
Two of the pharmaceutical executives, Mr. Duato of Johnson & Johnson and Mr. Davis of Merck, agreed to testify after being threatened with subpoenas. Mr. Sanders had planned to hold a committee vote last week on whether to release them, but leaders agreed to appear at the hearing before such a vote took place. The two companies suggested last month that Mr. Sanders sought to retaliate against lawsuits they had filed challenging Medicare’s price negotiation program.
Brand drug prices in the United States in 2022 were at least three times higher than those in 33 other wealthy countries, a recent report funded by the Department of Health and Human Services foundeven accounting for discounts that can reduce the amount paid by U.S. health plans and employers.
Comparing drug prices in the United States with those in other countries can be complicated because the health care systems are very different. In the United States, drug price negotiations are fragmented among tens of thousands of health plans and employers, while European countries rely on a centralized negotiator. And although many prescription drugs can be purchased at a much lower price at European pharmacies, European countries do not necessarily offer their citizens broad insurance coverage for these drugs.
Sarah Ryan, a spokeswoman for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry’s main lobbying group, said in a statement that new drugs are arriving faster in the United States than in any other country. She blamed middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers for the high costs Americans face.
The three executives scheduled to testify Thursday are the latest to appear before Mr. Sanders since he became chairman of the health committee early last year. In March, Moderna CEO testified about the price of his company’s Covid-19 vaccineand the chief executives of three major insulin makers — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi — appeared before the committee during a hearing in May.
Michelle Mello, a health policy expert at Stanford Law School, said lawmakers could use the hearing to build momentum around new drug pricing legislation, like expanding the bargaining program Medicare prices to cover more drugs.
“We could do so much more with this tool,” she said.