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Grassley Reminds Pharma CEOs How Much Drug List Prices Matter During Hearing

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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Evie Fordham Politics and Health Care Reporter

Republican Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley reminded seven pharmaceutical company executives that drug list prices matter to patients during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on drug prices Tuesday.

“For a patient taking a drug that has no competition, the list price becomes very important,” committee chairman Grassley said, according to NPR. “I’ve heard about people skipping doses of their prescription drugs to make them last until the next paycheck.”

Grassley and the committee’s ranking member, Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, questioned executives from companies including Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Pfizer at Tuesday’s hearing.

The drug company CEOs discussed their companies’ investments in research and development and price distortion due to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), but commitments to lowering drugs were “noticeably absent,” reported CNBC(RELATED: Obamacare Is Approaching Its 10th Birthday. This GOP Rep Has A Plan To Lean Into Its ‘Free Market’ Aspects)

“Last year, Janssen invested $8.4 billion globally in research and development, making Janssen one of the top research and development investors in any industry anywhere in the world,” said Jennifer Taubert, worldwide chairwoman of pharmaceuticals for Johnson & Johnson, which owns Janssen, according to NPR.

Wyden and Grassley continued to press the executives for high list prices, even as the CEOs responded by saying list price does not always equate to what patients pay.

Other companies represented at the hearing included AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck. Altogether, the CEOs of the seven companies combined made over $55 million in one year, according to a 2019 analysis by The Wall Street Journal.

Chief Executive Officers of pharmaceutical companies testify before the Senate Finance Committee on "Drug Pricing in America: A Prescription for Change, Part II" February 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Chief Executive Officers of pharmaceutical companies testify before the Senate Finance Committee on “Drug Pricing in America: A Prescription for Change, Part II” February 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Richard A. Gonzalez, chairman and CEO of AbbVie Inc. testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on "Drug Pricing in America: A Prescription for Change, Part II" February 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Richard A. Gonzalez, chairman and CEO of AbbVie Inc. testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on “Drug Pricing in America: A Prescription for Change, Part II” February 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“Prescription drugs did not become outrageously expensive by accident,” Wyden said at the hearing, according to NPR. “Drug prices are astronomically high because that’s where pharmaceutical companies and their investors want them.”

The executives also addressed a Trump administration proposal to bring big changes to the way PBMs work by negotiating secret rebates to set drug prices. The administration wants to ban those rebates and “force pharmacy benefit managers to instead negotiate discounts upfront so that people will get the discounts at the pharmacy counter even if they haven’t yet met their deductible,” reported NPR.

“We will try to move every single penny to the patients,” Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, said of the rebates.

AbbVie faced scrutiny in 2018 for allegedly providing illegal kickbacks to doctors and patients to boost drug sales. AbbVie’s CEO, Richard Gonzalez, had a yearly compensation valued at over $22 million according to a WSJ analysis.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to reflect that the Senate Finance Committee hearing was Tuesday, Feb. 26, not Thursday, Feb. 28.

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