Senator Murray outlines the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs in America and points to strengthening Medicare negotiation as the most straightforward and effective path forward to bring down costs
Senator Murray: “When you say you’re in the business of saving lives and curing disease, you have to think about putting patients over profits…lifesaving drugs don’t do anyone any good if people can’t afford them.”
A survey of adults in Washington conducted in August 2022 found that half of respondents were worried about affording the cost of prescription drugs, and roughly one in four reported rationing medication due to cost.
***WATCH: Senator Murray’s Full Questioning***
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member and former Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, questioned the CEOs of major pharmaceutical companies, Bristol Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck, about the unacceptably high prices they charge Americans for the prescription drugs their companies produce, at a HELP Committee hearing titled, “Why Does the United States Pay, by Far, the Highest Prices in the World for Prescription Drugs?”
The exorbitant prices pharmaceutical companies charge for prescription drugs in the United States—which are far higher than the prices they charge in other nations—mean that one in four Americans cannot afford the medicine their doctors prescribe. A survey of adults in Washington conducted in August 2022 found that half of respondents were worried about affording prescription drugs, and roughly one in four reported rationing medication due to cost.
“Sky-high drug costs are forcing many people, including in my home state of Washington, to choose between filling their prescriptions and paying for other things they need, essentials like groceries or rent,” Senator Murray said at today’s hearing. “And I often talk to people who are skipping their prescriptions altogether because they can’t afford it—and it puts their life at risk. So, I really believe that Congress does need to do more here—I have for a long time—and I also think that pharmaceutical companies also need to do much more to put patients first.”
“But when you say you’re in the business of saving lives and curing disease, you have to think about putting patients over profits…lifesaving drugs don’t do anyone any good if people can’t afford them,” Murray said, continuing on to her questioning.
“Mr. Duato, your drug company makes a product to treat arthritis, Stelara. It costs $79,000 annually here in the U.S.—$12,000 in France. Mr. Davis, your company makes a drug to treat cancer, Keytruda… annually the cost here is $191,000—$44,000 in Japan. And Mr. Boerner, your company makes a drug, Eliquis, to treat the risk of stroke that costs $7,100 in a year [here] and $770 in Germany. So… you think that the same prescription drugs sold around the world work better here in America? Or we’re getting something more for it?”
Mr. Davis, CEO of Merck, replied that the pricing levels in Japan would “not be sustainable” in the U.S., and Mr. Boerner, CEO of Bristol Myers Squibb, said “there is no doubt that patients are going to pay less for our drug, Eliquis, or frankly most of our drugs outside of the U.S.”
“Probably the most important thing—and Eliquis is a great example of this—that we can do, is try to bring down the list cost of Eliquis,” Mr. Boerner said.
“Do you set the list price?,” Murray asked.
“We set the list price,” Mr. Boerner replied.
At the conclusion of her questioning, Senator Murray issued the following statement on today’s Senate HELP Hearing:
“What people are paying in this country is absolutely unreasonable—and the drug manufacturers set those astronomical prices. These sky-high costs cannot continue, and everyone should understand that the Inflation Reduction Act was not the end of the road—not by a longshot. Most people agree that Medicare ought to be able to negotiate lower drug prices—it’s just common sense, it saves seniors and taxpayers a lot of money. The Inflation Reduction Act took an important first step—but I and many others want us to build on that progress and make more prescription medications more affordable, and even sooner. Congress is going to keep pushing for reforms to lower prescription drug costs—I hope that much is clear.”
The Inflation Reduction Act Senator Murray helped pass capped Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket prescription drugs costs at $2,000 a year, capped their insulin costs at $35 a month, and capped price increases on their prescriptions at the rate of inflation so that drug makers cannot jack up prices to juice their own profits—helping Washington state’s more than 1.4 million seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare. Among other things, the law means that 29,650 Medicare Part D enrollees in Washington state who saw out-of-pocket costs over $2,000 in 2020 will now have their prescription drugs capped at $2,000 per year.
Senator Murray has been a steadfast champion of efforts to lower prescription drug costs and has pushed for years to give Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices for patients—which Democrats succeeded in passing into law as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. Murray is also a cosponsor of the Strengthening Medicare and Reducing Taxpayer (SMART) Prices Act that would strengthen Medicare’s ability to secure lower prescription drug costs for consumers by giving the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) additional authority to negotiate for Medicare Part D, building on provisions Democrats enacted in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Senator Murray has also worked on many other efforts over the years to lower prescription drug costs for consumers. In 2019, as Chair of the HELP Committee, Murray introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) that would improve the process for challenging sham drug patents and remove obstacles that can keep lower cost generic drugs from being available to patients and families. Murray also worked closely with Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) to advance provisions in the FDA Safety and Landmark Advancements Act that would bring more competition to the market to lower drug prices and allow for the safe importation of prescription drugs from Canada. While those provisions were not ultimately included in the final text, it was the first time ever that a Committee-passed user fee reauthorization bill included policy expanding importation of prescription drugs, laying the groundwork for future progress.