House Democrats launch sweeping probe of prescription drug prices

Credit: Jamie Dupree

Credit: Jamie Dupree

With the first of a series of hearings set for later this month, Democrats on a key House committee on Monday sent letters to a dozen major pharmaceutical companies, demanding documents and information on how those drug giants set their prices, questioning why the cost of big name drugs have gone up at more than four times the rate of inflation over the last 12 years.

"The Committee on Oversight and Reform is investigating the actions of drug companies in raising prescription drug prices in the United States, as well as the effects of these actions on federal and state budgets and on American families," said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the head of the House Oversight Committee.

Cummings sent letters to an array of familiar names in the prescription drug business - Amgen, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Eli Lilly, Novartis, and more - pressing for answers about the cost of drugs dealing with everything from arthritis to cancer, diabetes, cholesterol, and acid reflux.

"For years, drug companies have been aggressively increasing prices on existing drugs and setting higher launch prices for new drugs while recording windfall profits," Cummings wrote.

"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."

The letters were sent after a group of Democrats unveiled legislation last week aimed to forcing price reductions for prescription drugs, a rare issue where Democrats and President Donald Trump find themselves in some agreement - at least on the basics - of forcing drug companies to lower prices.

Democrats though say that while President Trump has talked about letting Medicare negotiate with major drug companies, the Trump Administration has not followed through on that promise to help consumers deal with rising drug prices.

An initial hearing is scheduled for January 29.

"The cost of prescription drugs is too high in our country and prices just keep rising," said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

"Don’t let Big Pharma claim that innovation is the reason why the cost of prescription drugs continue to rise," said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA).