Skip to main content

Advanced Search

Advanced Search

Current Filters

Filter your query

Publication Types



Newsletter Article


Senate Committee Scrutinizes High Drug Prices

By Andrew Siddons, CQ Roll Call

December 9, 2015 -- In the months after Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of a drug from $13.50 to $750 a pill, outraged congressional Democrats have accused their Republican counterparts of refusing to take on the rising prices of prescription drugs. But on Wednesday, for the first time since the latest iteration of the drug debate broke out, a bipartisan Senate committee criticized recent price hikes.

"One goal of our bipartisan investigation is to understand why such companies can impose egregious price increases on off-patent drugs they have acquired, and what policies we should consider to counter this disturbing practice," said Senate Aging Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Me.

Senators expressed deep concern about the high cost of drugs and the implications for the health care system and patients. "It is hard not to get emotional about it," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the committee's ranking member, said.

Collins acknowledged the need for sufficiently high drug prices for companies to recoup the cost of investment, and she said the United States had found a good balance between the need for companies to innovate while promoting access to consumers. But what Turing did, she said, was "egregious."

"That balance we have struck never anticipated companies acquiring off-patent drugs and then jacking up their prices to enormous heights," Collins said.

Turing earlier this year purchased the rights to Daraprim, a drug that treats parasitic infections, and was able to raise the price so high because nobody else was making it. But Turing had not been involved in developing the drug or continuing research in it, a practice of particular concern to committee members.

"This type of price increase in the absence of any improvements to the drug whatsoever is not an isolated incident," McCaskill said.

In addition to Turing, Collins pointed out three other pharmaceutical companies that have engaged in similar practices, including Valeant Pharmaceuticals; Retrophin, Inc.; and Rodelis Therapeutics. Collins noted the companies did not invest in researching and developing the drugs.

No representatives from the companies were at the hearing, but witnesses included doctors who have grappled with the real-world impact of high prices. David Kimberlan, a director for pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Alabama, said his hospital has struggled to acquire Daraprim since Turing purchased it, to the detriment of his patients who could benefit from its treatment.

"Babies' lives literally hang in the balance here," he said.

Erin Fox, director of the Drug Information Service at University of Utah Health Care, explained prices have risen for some of the drugs her hospital uses because only a few companies continue to make them.

"The supply chain for generic injectable off-patent drugs is incredibly fragile," she said.

The committee's investigation into drug prices revealed instances that price increases on two drugs supplied by Valeant raised drug costs at the Cleveland Clinic by $8.6 million, Collins said.

In North Carolina, she said, a pharmacy had dropped Turing's Daraprim from its inventory, and a local child diagnosed with toxoplasmosis was treated with an alternative that hadn't been widely tested in children.

The committee's investigation is meant to bring attention to the issue of high drug prices, but it's unclear if it will result in any legislative action.

McCaskill said that the situation required the government to act in some way.

"This is a market failure, and when there's a market failure, the government has a role in addressing it," she said. "I hope that this hearing and the future hearings we are planning can start the process of developing solutions," she said.

Publication Details