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7 pharma CEOs will sit in the Senate's hot seat

Senate Finance Chair Chuck Grassley. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Seven pharmaceutical CEOs will face off against the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday in what could be the beginning of a bipartisan push to reduce drug prices.

What we're watching: Pharma would rather not be here, but if there's a silver lining for the industry, it's that this hearing — with 7 drug companies and no one else — is a pretty big platform to try to shift the blame to pharmacy benefit managers.

  • Expect to hear these executives return repeatedly to PBMs, arguing that even as drug prices rise, drug companies aren't keeping the extra money. Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) seems to be prepared for this already.

The big picture: Pharma is weaker on Capitol Hill right now than it has been in a very long time, and President Trump's willingness to take on the industry has frayed drugmakers' usual alliances with the GOP.

  • If lawmakers want to home in on specific issues within the drug-pricing system, this is a great opportunity.
  • You could do a lot worse, for example, than pressing AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez about the thicket of patents that continue to stave off competition for Humira, the world's best-selling drug.

Yes, but: Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

  • The House held a big angry hearing with Martin Shkreli in 2015, and Mylan CEO Heather Bresch in 2016. No laws changed either time. Both Daraprim and Mylan’s Epi-Pen cost just as much today as they did during those hearings.
  • As Kaiser Health News recently noted, lawmakers were incensed about the price of drugs at similar hearings 60 years ago. And yet, here we are.

Go deeper: Ohio is fighting back against one of the nation's biggest PBMs