April 09,2019

Rising prescription drug costs are a problem for many Americans – so let’s fix it

By U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Innovative medical therapies discovered by doctors and researchers have improved the quality of life for millions of Americans and saved the lives of millions more. However, the public and policy makers are concerned with the rising prescription drug costs and the political will to address the problem is increasing. High prescription drug costs are putting a strain on patients and our health care system, particularly critical government programs like Medicaid and Medicare. One in four Americans report financial hardship paying for their medications. That simply shouldn’t be the case. Health care consumers and taxpayers deserve answers and need solutions.
In my capacity as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I’ve made it a priority to find these answers and work toward solutions. Tomorrow, my committee will conduct a hearing where Members will hear from executives of five pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), middlemen in the drug price discussion. This hearing is the third in a series to scrutinize prescription drug pricing. This hearing will provide PBMs the opportunity to describe their specific role in how patients get their medications and how much they pay for them. Furthermore, they will have the chance to describe the value they bring and the steps Congress can take to improve the system. The hearing will help advance my efforts to identify bipartisan solutions which can become law, and my hope is that the PBMs will prove to be helpful partners.
Legislation I will support will be guided by the free market principle that increased competition leads to lower prices. Generic medications are a prime example of this principle of lowering prices by increasing competition. I support efforts to get safe generic options to market. I also support legislation like the CREATES Act and the Preserve Access to Affordable Generics and Biosimilars Act, which would help put a stop to abusive practices that block generic competition.
Other ideas I favor include transparency where ever it can be applied. The Physician Payments Sunshine Law I wrote requires pharmaceutical and medical device companies to report payments made by them to doctors and teaching hospitals. Last Congress, we added nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to the same reporting mechanism. Because of this law, patients and researchers may look up their provider or hospital at the Open Payments website and examine any such payments. While many of these payments are legitimate compensation for activities such as research, the sunshine created results in accountability.
In the same vein, transparency is needed when it comes to television advertisements for prescription drugs. The average American sees nine television drug ads every day. Studies show that patients are more likely to ask their doctor for a specific brand-name medication if they’ve seen it advertised. That behavior tends to increase drug costs. I support President Trump’s efforts to require drug manufacturers to post the list price on any television advertisement for a prescription drug. By requiring this transparency, drug manufacturers will be forced to re-think their pricing strategies. 

In the case of the PBM industry, there is a need for greater transparency. At the hearing tomorrow, I intend to press the PBMs on what can be done to shed light on their activities. I will also address whether the PBMs are acting in the best interests of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries as well as the American taxpayer. Because if they’re not, we need to fix that. I look forward to the hearing and I look forward to introducing more legislation to address the problem of high prescription drug prices.