- The new leader of the House Oversight Committee on Monday opened Congress’ latest investigation into prescription drug pricing, sending letters to 12 pharmaceutical companies requesting information and documents related pricing practices on 18 products.
- Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., has made confronting the pharmaceutical industry his top priority since becoming chairman of the Oversight Committee earlier this month. Drug pricing will be the topic for the committee’s first hearing, set for Tuesday, Jan. 29.
- The letters are the first step in Cummings’ investigation and target some of the largest drugmakers, including Pfizer, Novartis and Johnson & Johnson. “The letters seek information and communications on price increases, investments in research and development, and corporate strategies to preserve market share and pricing power,” Cummings said in a Jan. 13 statement
Cummings’ investigation could suggest how one influential congressional committee will tackle the issue going forward.
“The goals of this investigation are to determine why drug companies are increasing prices so dramatically, how drug companies are using the proceeds, and what steps can be taken to reduce prescription drug prices,” he said in a statement.
The letters sent to a dozen companies focused on 18 drugs that were either costliest to Medicare Part D, costliest per beneficiary or had the largest price increases over a five-year period.
Cummings is far from alone among lawmakers in his eagerness to pursue legislation aimed at rising drug prices. Last week, he joined Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and several other liberal congressional members in introducing three bills on the topic.
Generally, those three legislative proposals would allow negotiation on Medicare Part D prescription drug prices, permit drug importation from Canada and other “major” countries and give the federal government power to offer non-exclusive licenses for “excessively” priced drugs.
The critical hurdle to clear for such legislation will be attracting bipartisan support in a split government, with Democrats controlling the House while Republicans lead the Senate and White House. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said last week he will prioritize three pharma-related bills, including one on Canadian importation.
President Donald Trump and his administration, meanwhile, released a drug pricing blueprint plan last year that has since led to several controversial proposals. And while drugmakers have continued routine boosts to list prices this January, Health and Human Secretary Alex Azar recently threatened further regulatory action if those prices do not come down.
For the House Oversight Committee, the Jan. 29 hearing will be the first of several. Cummings stated the committee will hear from experts and patients. It’s unclear if, or when, industry execs could be summoned to the Hill to face questions.