Skyrocketing drug prices under scrutiny as pharma CEOs summoned to Senate hearing

"A life-saving drug is not effective if the patient who needs that drug cannot afford it."

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Chairman Bernie Sanders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, backed by all Democratic members, has issued a bold invitation to CEOs of major pharmaceutical companies to testify at an upcoming Senate hearing. This crucial session aims to address the burning question: “Why Does the United States Pay, By Far, The Highest Prices In The World For Prescription Drugs?”

Scheduled for January 25, 2024, this hearing seeks to unravel the layers behind America’s exorbitant drug prices. Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Bristol Myers Squibb, known for selling some of the most expensive medicines in the U.S., are at the center of this inquiry. This move by Sanders and his colleagues marks a significant stride towards transparency and accountability in the pharmaceutical industry.

A stark disparity in drug pricing has long troubled the American healthcare landscape. For instance, Merck’s diabetes medication, Januvia, costs $6,000 in the U.S. compared to a mere $900 in Canada and $200 in France. Similarly, Imbruvica, a blood cancer drug by Johnson & Johnson, is priced at an alarming $204,000 in the U.S., against $46,000 in the U.K. and $43,000 in Germany. Bristol Myers Squibb’s blood thinner, Eliquis, also shows a drastic price difference, costing $6,700 in the U.S. while being available for just $900 in Canada and $650 in France.

The financial success of these companies contrasts sharply with the affordability crisis faced by Americans. In 2022, Johnson & Johnson reported a profit of $17.9 billion, with its CEO receiving a whopping $27.6 million in compensation. Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb also reported substantial profits and high CEO compensations.

Sanders, a long-standing advocate for affordable healthcare, emphasizes the right of American people to understand the reasons behind the crippling cost of prescription drugs. The hearing aims to challenge the pharmaceutical industry’s practice of prioritizing profits and executive compensation over patients’ needs. It will also focus on the industry’s billions spent on stock buybacks and dividends, while the median price of new prescription drugs in the U.S. soared over $220,000 last year.

Sanders, along with other Democratic senators, is determined to confront these issues head-on. The hearing is not just an inquiry but a step towards much-needed reform in the U.S. pharmaceutical sector. As Sanders poignantly states, “A life-saving drug is not effective if the patient who needs that drug cannot afford it.” This hearing could mark a pivotal moment in the fight to make healthcare accessible and affordable for all Americans.

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