Senator Collins previously invited patients and pharmaceutical pricing experts to share their insight with the Aging Committee
Click HERE to read Senator Collins’ opening statement.
Washington, D.C.—In the final hearing in a three-part Senate Aging Committee series on the soaring cost of prescription drugs, U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) the Chairman of the Committee, pressed Administration officials to detail policies their agencies have proposed and implemented to increase competition and lower costs for consumers. The agency representatives discussed steps they have taken to reduce health care costs and suggested areas of cooperation to further reduce prices.
Today’s hearing builds on two previous hearings Senator Collins has held in this series. The first hearing focused on patients’ personal struggles to afford the medications they need to maintain their health. The second hearing featured the perspectives of drug pricing experts.
Senator Collins emphasized the urgent need to take action to lower drug prices, citing the example of a New Gloucester boy with Type 1 diabetes whose 90-day supply of insulin tripled in cost to more than $900 overnight.
“According to a recent survey, nearly seven in ten Americans say that lowering prescription drug prices should be a ‘top priority’ for Congress. Our Committee has highlighted example after example of patients who feel powerless when confronted with sky high drug costs and go to extraordinary lengths to cover the cost of their medications,” said Senator Collins. “While past hearings have focused on the root causes behind escalating prices, this hearing focused on some potential solutions. In order to untangle patients from this complex web and bring them the relief they need without dampening innovation that produces life-saving new drugs, we need to work together, and that has been the spirit of this Committee.”
According to former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, if all the biosimilars that have been already approved by the FDA were successfully marketed in the United States in a timely fashion, Americans would have saved more than $4.5 billion in 2017. Senator Collins recently introduced the Biologic Patent Transparency Act to help block the harmful patent strategies that prevent lower-cost generic versions of these drugs from coming to market. She highlighted the obstacles posed by patent thickets and asked Dr. Janet Woodcock, the Director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about patent transparency improvements so that biosimilars can more easily enter the market when those patents expire.
Dr. Woodcock testified that FDA has been engaged in conversations with the US Patent and Trademark Office on the root cause of these problems.
“This is a complicated issue, but we’re eager to work with your staff on this issue because it is blocking availability…” said Dr. Woodcock.
Senator Collins also related the anxiety felt by many patients who are unsure what the cost of their medication will be to Demetrios Kouzoukas the Principal Deputy Administrator & Director of the Center for Medicare. She described how a multiple myeloma patient at a previous hearing went in and out of the prescription drug coverage “donut hole,” paying nearly $5,000 the first month and $640 the next month.
“What is the best way to reform the catastrophic benefit so that it helps patients without creating any perverse incentives in our drug pricing system?” Senator Collins asked.
Mr. Kouzoukas responded, “The catastrophic phase is an important piece of this because the people who are most affected...are the ones who have the high drug costs and that puts them into the catastrophic phase.”
“We are testing in our Part D modernization model right now a change whereby prescription drug plans have an opportunity to come in and offer an incentive in order to give even bigger discounts in the catastrophic phase and to do that in a way that will drive better negotiation. I'll also say that in our budget proposal, as one part among several, we have a protection for maximum out-of-pocket costs as well,” Mr. Kouzoukas continued.
The Committee also heard from Vicki Robinson, the Senior Counselor for policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Office of Inspector General. Ms. Robinson spoke about DHHS OIG’s proposed rule addressing rebates and other price reductions on prescription drugs, which is intended to curb list price increases, reduce financial burden on beneficiaries, and improve transparency.
Click HERE to read the witnesses’ testimonies.
On March 6, 2019, the Committee heard from a panel of patients from across the country. Testimonies included personal stories revealing the impact of high prescription drug prices, and the struggles that these Americans have gone through to be able to afford their medications. Click HERE to watch Part I.
On March 7, 2019, the Committee heard from experts on policy solutions to the rising costs of prescription drugs. Testimonies included academic and evidence-based perspectives on increasing transparency. Click HERE to watch Part II.
The Senate Aging Committee has made combating high prescription drug prices a top priority. In hearings last year, the Committee specifically examined the rising costs of drugs to treat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
In 2015, the Aging Committee launched the Senate’s first bipartisan investigation into the causes, impacts, and potential solutions to the egregious price spikes for certain off-patent drugs. The Committee released a report on its investigation in 2016.