Senators grill pharma executives over rising drug prices

The CEOs of the seven big pharmaceutical companies got a three-hour bipartisan grilling on Capitol Hill Tuesday about the rising cost of medications. Americans spent an estimated $360 billion last year on prescription drugs, and that’s expected to increase dramatically in the next decade.

“Prices are astronomically high because that’s where pharmaceutical companies and their investors want them,” said Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.

“It is almost as if the taxpayer has stupid written on their face,” said Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy.

On average, Americans spent $1,162 per person on prescription drugs, compared with $838 in Canada and only $766 in Germany for similar drugs.

The manufacturers make some of the biggest drugs like Ambien and Clarinex. AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez was pressed to explain why the price of arthritis drug Humira doubled from $19,000 in 2012 to $41,000 today.

“I think that you charge more here because you can,” said Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

But as that debate rages on, patients like Kathleen Washington are stuck in the middle. She can’t afford the $600 price of her insulin so she has to use a less effective, cheaper insulin.

“It got to a point where I had to make a decision as to whether or not I am going to get my insulin or food,” she said.

The hearing ended with none of the companies committed to lowering the list price they charge for drugs.

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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