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Senator Collins Questions Merck CEO on Prescription Drug Affordability

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ Q&A with CEO of Merck & Co. Robert Davis and HERE to download.

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, at a Senate Health Committee hearing with CEOs of major drug manufacturers, U.S. Senator Susan Collins questioned CEO of Merck & Co., Robert Davis, on efforts pharmaceutical companies are taking to continue innovating new medications while increasing the affordability of drugs for patients.

Senator Collins said:

I think all of us could agree that when a doctor prescribes a needed medication, that cost should not be an insurmountable barrier to the patient using it. Yet, for more than half of the adults in my state, according to a survey, it is a barrier.

In the last year, nearly one out of three Maine adults reported skipping a dose of medicine, cutting pills in half, or not filling a prescription because of cost.

I talked to a young woman with Type 1 diabetes, who, after she aged out of her parents' insurance, started cutting back on her insulin. She ended up in the emergency room and was gravely ill because of that. She felt she just couldn't afford it, and took a very unwise chance. So, this is a huge problem.

So, I would like, Mr. Davis, you to discuss how we can balance the need to have affordable medications, without hampering innovation, and what would be the impact on access to the next generation of medications if price controls, like those in Europe, are implemented? How do you see a solution to the balance between affordability and innovation?

Merck CEO Robert Davis replied:

We look at what is the benefit to the patient, but equally, we do look at what is the benefit or the cost to the system. We look at access and affordability. And I can tell you, for instance, when we launched Keytruda, we launched at parity to market price, even though we knew we had a better product, in part because we wanted to ensure access.

We know 90% of all drugs we will bring into the clinic, fail. The reality of it is, the drugs that make it have to fund that failure.

So, that's what we're facing in the system, but as we look at how can we fix this, I think we have to get to the out of pocket cost, and we have to find a way to really drive that down... Whether it's through patient assistance programs, copay assistance, all of the ways we can help the individual person address that affordability challenge, which we all know someone who's faced that, and I don't want to see anyone face that.

Senator Collins has long fought to cut prescription drug costs for Mainers. As co-chairs of the Senate Diabetes Caucus, Senators Collins and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced the bipartisan Improving Needed Safeguards for Users of Lifesaving Insulin Now (INSULIN) Act last year. This legislation would comprehensively address the skyrocketing costs of insulin and remove barriers to care making it more accessible to millions of Americans.