Senators threaten to force drug execs to testify about prices

U.S. lawmakers holding hearings about drug prices threatened to force pharmaceutical executives to testify after they wouldn’t come voluntarily.

Sen. Charles Grassley said he asked drug executives to testify at a series of hearings but that most had said no.

“The companies that declined said they would be very happy to have discussions in private but not in public ,” Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee. “That is not what I mean when I talk about transparency.”

He didn’t name the companies.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the committee, noted that even tobacco executives were willing to go before Congress.

“The drugmakers are going to have to show up as well,” he said.

The hearing is one of several on health care happening on Capitol Hill this week. It opened with testimony from Kathy Sego, from Madison, Indiana, whose college-age son has Type 1 diabetes and relies on insulin.

He began secretly rationing the drug away at college when he found out it cost $487 per vial, Sego said, endangering his health.

The costs have put a strain on her family.

“Our electricity was turned off because I needed to purchase the medicine to keep my son alive,” she said. “Almost every dollar I make goes toward health-care expenses.”

Wyden singled out Humalog, an insulin made by Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co, as a drug with unwarranted price hikes, from $21 per vial in 1996 to $275 today.

“The companies have unchecked power to set prices on their own, and often it’s to meet Wall Street’s expectations rather than to meet demand in the market,” he said.

Eli Lilly is “committed to ensuring everyone living with diabetes has reasonable access to insulin, and we appreciate all perspectives on this topic,” spokeswoman Kelley Murphy said in an email. “A comprehensive policy solution for people with chronic diseases requires commitment from the entire health-care system,” she said, adding that thousands of patients get Lilly insulins at lower costs “through various solutions.”

Wyden said the committee would compel pharma executives to testify if they wouldn’t come voluntarily.

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