02/09/2016

Congress takes pharmaceutical execs to task on drug prices

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The run-up in drug prices over the past few years prompted the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to hold a hearing on Feb. 4. Members of the committee took pharmaceutical executives to task over pricing policies that have resulted in skyrocketing drug prices, especially in the case of many of the top-selling drugs in the United States.

The high cost of drugs has become the No. 1 healthcare concern for many Americans, and a variety of interested parties, including the AFT, are calling for government intervention to address the problem. The purpose of the hearing was not only to discuss the methods and reasoning behind recent drug price increases but also to address concerns about negotiating drug prices, the lack of transparency in pricing contracts, and the impediments to a timely review and approval of generic drug applications.

Martin Shkreli, the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, was among a number of pharmaceutical executives who were invited to testify. Shkreli was questioned for boosting the price of Daraprim (a drug used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection) from $13.50 per pill to a whooping $750. Shkreli, however, refused to answer questions from committee members, asserting his Fifth Amendment right not to testify, but he had plenty to say on Twitter after the hearing.

In addition to the CEO testimony, a number of individuals submitted letters, including AFT President Randi Weingarten, whose letter was acknowledged and officially entered into the record by ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) during the hearing. Weingarten's letter is a part of the AFT's ongoing Patients Before Profits campaign.

"Current conditions in the pharmaceutical industry present unprecedented challenges for ensuring that patients have access to high-quality, affordable drugs," Weingarten wrote. "It is devastating to hear from retired educators and nurses, who have spent their lives helping people, about the struggles they face in taking care of their own health needs. These choices and the all-too-often resulting tragedies are unnecessary."

[Adrienne Coles]