Senate Hearing Makes it Clear Who Won't Solve This Problem

Screenshot from C-SPAN3 of a U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing that featured CEO’s from the biggest manufacturers in big pharma

In terms of national spotlight, Michael Cohen’s testimony may have trumped that of the pharma executives who also testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday. However, you’d never know it from looking around Rx Savings Solutions headquarters that day.

Most of us were glued to the Senate Finance Committee hearing that featured CEO’s from the biggest manufacturers in big pharma. It was a rare sight: a bipartisan barrage against seven drug-makers who clearly wanted to be somewhere else. Senators from both sides all took turns interrogating the panel. (A real journalist would dig into which of those senators accept campaign funds from the pharma lobby, but that’s a blog for another day.)

Nevertheless, most if not all of the senators came across as sincere in their admonishment of the seven execs. They provided many great examples of what’s wrong with the system. And credit the Finance Committee for calling the hearing. For their part, the CEO’s took the heat and even did a decent job of explaining their role in the problem.

Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck, said this: "If patients understood what their (prescription drug) options are, they wouldn't make these choices."

They even offered some decent ideas that might help:

  • Capping the amount seniors on Medicare would pay out of pocket for prescriptions
  • Passing the estimated $29 billion in rebates, now paid to pharmacy benefit managers (PBM’s) and health plans, onto consumers

Speaking of rebates, in familiar fashion the execs pointed fingers at PBM’s for not passing them onto consumers and muddying the pricing waters.

Interestingly, none of the CEO’s proposed voluntarily lowering the list prices they each set. Again, they justified raising prices in part on rising R&D costs. I overheard my much more-esteemed colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Green, Director of Pharmacy, say this: “We’re all for new gene therapies … but not in exchange for $2,000 Ibuprofen/Pepcid.”

Tuesday’s hearing did advance the dialogue, at least. And some sort of legislation might actually happen soon, given that the president and lawmakers on both sides have made it an issue—and there’s an election coming up.

Perhaps the most relevant quote of the day came from Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto who said: “I need a PhD to understand drug pricing in this country.”

She’s right. As we all listened to the exchange between the senators and pharma CEO’s, our founder Dr. Michael Rea said it best: “Those who created the problem aren’t going to be the ones to solve it.”

However, consumers can be the solution without having to be PhD’s. All we need is a real, functioning and efficient market that offers real choices and market-driven pricing. That’s why all of us here were glued to the hearing Tuesday—and why we’re all here in the first place.