Durbin Previews Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing On Prescription Drug Prices, Competition, And Innovation

Durbin: Tomorrow’s hearing will shed light on drivers of high drug prices, and how the Senate Judiciary Committee can help solve this problem for the American people

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today spoke on the Senate floor highlighting tomorrow’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Ensuring Affordable & Accessible Medications: Examining Competition in the Prescription Drug Market.” The hearing will examine prescription drug prices, competition, and innovation, and how to ensure medications are accessible and affordable for American families.  Durbin began his remarks by reflecting on the high price of prescription drugs in the United States compared to other countries. 

“Patients in the United States pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world—nearly three times what people in other developed countries pay for common medications,” said Durbin.  “And these prices just keep rising.  In 2022, drug manufacturers raised prices on more than 1,200 medications by an average of 32 percent—four times the rate of inflation.  For patients already facing a gut-wrenching diagnosis, the last thing they should have to worry about is whether they can afford lifesaving treatment.  Yet, 20 percent of seniors report that the sky-high cost of their medications forces them to skip doses or cut pills,” said Durbin.

Insulin was discovered 100 years ago by Canadian inventors who surrendered their patent rights for $1 because they believed no one should profit off this life-saving medicine.  When Eli Lilly launched its insulin product—Humalog—in 1999, a vial cost a modest $21.  Over the next 20 years, the company raised its price more than two-dozen times to more than $330. 

Durbin then reflected on the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which thanks to Congressional Democrats and President Biden, capped insulin at $35 per month under Medicare.  Not a single Republican voted for the IRA.  Following passage of the IRA, eight pharmaceutical companies filed federal lawsuits in hopes of stopping another component of the IRA, which enables Medicare to negotiate for lower drug costs. 

“Big Pharma participates in the Veterans Health Administration, which has had the authority to bargain for lower costs for our veterans.  They’ve had that authority for decades.  Yet we heard cries of ‘price controls’ and ‘socialism’ from Big Pharma as they opposed letting Medicare simply negotiate a better deal on behalf of seniors and taxpayers,” said Durbin.  “Last fall, President Biden announced the first 10 drugs that would see price reductions from these negotiations.  These drugs cost the Medicare program more than $50 billion last year alone.”

The drugs President Biden announced are also among the most heavily advertised drugs on TV—the United States is one of only two countries in the world that permits this practice.  During his speech, Durbin noted that Americans see an average of nine drug ads on TV every day.  Durbin and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) previously introduced their Drug-price Transparency for Consumers (DTC) Act, a bill that would require price disclosures on advertisements for prescription drugs, in order to empower patients and reduce excess spending on medications.

During his floor speech, Durbin then spoke about patent abuse.  Durbin specifically cited Humira and its manufacturer Abbvie, which introduced the drug in 2002.  For more than 20 years, the company exploited intellectual property laws to build a thicket of at least 165 patents around the drug.  A recent study found that the top 10 best-selling drugs in 2021 had a combined 1,429 patent applications filed, 72 percent of which were filed after the FDA approved the drug for sale. 

Durbin continued, “Big Pharma will tell you that the high prices paid by Americans are just a high cost of innovation.  They point to the money they spend on research and development to create the next generation of life-saving medications… They always fail to mention one fundamental fact that taxpayers should not forget.  Taxpayers fund the bulk of basic biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health.  In fact, studies have found that 99 percent of drugs introduced by the drug companies and approved by the FDA between 2010 and 2019 benefited from NIH research.  And, too often, the prices charged by Big Pharma do not reflect scientific advancement.  Rather, they are the result of manipulation not by research or doctors but by lawyers of the patent system.”

Despite claims that the high prescription drug prices Americans pay are necessary to fund research and development into the next generation of drugs, research suggests that the majority of innovation is driven by smaller companies, as well as taxpayer funding through the National Institutes of Health. The Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over competition issues and the intellectual property system, which play critical roles in incentivizing true innovation and protecting a healthy market that keeps prices for prescription drugs within reach of the patients that need them.

Earlier this Congress, a package of bills advanced unanimously out of the Committee to lower prescription drug prices and are awaiting a vote in the full Senate, including the Interagency Patent Coordination and Improvement Act introduced by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

Durbin concluded, “Our committee’s work is far from done.  Tomorrow’s hearing will shed light on additional obstacles to reducing drug prices, and how our committee can help solve this problem for the American people.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.