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House Democrats Hold Hearing on High Drug Prices

By Andrew Siddons, CQ Roll Call

December 2, 2015 -- House Democrats on Wednesday held a hearing on the high-profile campaign issue of prescription drug prices, seeking to put pressure on their Republican counterparts to address the issue.

The hearing of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee was attended by 16 lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce committee. Many of them noted the highly symbolic nature of the action.

"We are here today in this hearing room in large measure because we cannot be in other hearing rooms," Rep. Lloyd Doggett, R-Texas, said. "We want this to be a bipartisan issue. Republicans are affected by this also, but the representatives here in Congress have yet to join with us in a true bipartisan effort." 

The Democrats did not advocate for specific legislative actions, but Doggett called for the Obama administration to use its executive authority to make an impact.

"We need to use every part of the federal government we can to address this crisis," he said.

Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., hoped that drawing attention to the issue would spur drugmakers to take it upon themselves to lower prices.

"Maybe by outing each and every one of these drug companies and putting pressure on them, even shaming them, they might change their tactics," Edwards said.

Witnesses examined different aspects of the pharmaceutical industry.

"Things like high research costs, long periods of market exclusivity, insufficient competition, and drug material shortages," Lynn Quincy, the director of the Health Care Value Hub at the Consumers Union, cited as reasons for growing drug costs.

The House hearing comes amid months of congressional umbrage over the rising costs of prescription drugs and the same day that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported that drug prices were a notable driver of national health care spending increases last year.

Next week the Senate Select Committee on Aging also will hold a hearing on the subject.

The backlash against pharmaceutical companies began after reports emerged that Turing Pharmaceuticals, shortly after acquiring the rights to manufacture Daraprim, a drug that fights parasitic infections, raised the price of that drug from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill.

Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government reform, sent a letter on Wednesday to Turing's chief executive, Martin Shkreli.

The letter took Shkreli to task for Turing's recent announcement that it had lowered the price of the drug in some cases.

"To claim that a 50 percent discount after a 5,000 percent increase is a 'price cut' is Orwellian double-speak," the letter read.

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