As an issue that has been on the minds of many people for decades, prescription drug prices are getting more and more attention recently. With President Donald Trump and congressional leaders vowing to rein in rising prescription drug costs, drug makers are coming under greater and greater scrutiny to explain the reasons behind the high costs of prescription drugs. Because of this, seven pharmaceutical executives were recently called to Capitol Hill to present their side of the story to senators at a hearing.
Appearing before the Senate Finance Committee, led by Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, the executives were given an opportunity to explain the prescription drug pricing process in greater detail. According to many experts, while the hearing may be looked at more as political theater, it is also a positive first step toward the creation of legislation that would ultimately provide relief to consumers.
According to Senator Grassley, one of the biggest problems has been a lack of balance between the development of new and innovative drugs and the ability to keep prices of the drugs affordable for consumers. But according to pharmaceutical executives, to accomplish this, one of the issues that needs to be addressed is the high out-of-pocket costs consumers are forced to pay by insurance companies.
While saying they wanted to be part of the solution, the pharmaceutical executives present at the hearing acknowledged the process will take some time to complete. As a first step to curb the problem, several executives, including Kenneth C. Frazier of Merck and Sanofi’s Olivier Brandicourt, suggested establishing a monthly or annual limit on out-of-pocket costs to be paid by Medicare patients. Once a patient meets these limits, additional costs will be paid by private health care or Medicare. Along with this suggestion, these and other executives also support legislation that would increase the speed by which generic medications could be available to patients. According to the executives, this could be accomplished by requiring brand-name drug manufacturers to supply samples to generic drug companies.
However, while the executives present had no trouble offering various suggestions, many experts who follow the drug industry believe little will change anytime soon. According to securities analyst Ronny Gal, since the industry is valued at more than $460 billion annually, many companies will be hesitant to change their practices for fear of losing out on large profits.
As an example of the problem with rising prescription drug costs, some members of the congressional panel pointed to the popular drug Humira, which is prescribed to patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and other similar conditions. According to the latest industry statistics, the list price of Humira is thought to be at least $50,000 per year, making it not affordable for many patients.
While virtually everyone at the hearing agreed the current system of drug pricing is unsustainable, senators and pharmaceutical executives had differing opinions on how to solve the problem. While the executives point to insurance companies as the culprits in this dilemma, senators often pointed to the drug manufacturers themselves as having list prices that made it virtually impossible for anyone but the wealthy to afford the medications.
While many ideas and possible solutions were offered at the hearing, all involved in the process agree bringing about substantial changes will be difficult at best. But as the United States population continues to age and be in need of expanded healthcare services, having access to affordable prescription drugs will be a top priority. Thus, lawmakers and drug company executives have pledged to continue working together to find solutions that will make prescription drugs affordable for everyone.
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