Durbin Questions Witnesses During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing On Prescription Drug Prices, Competition, And Innovation

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned witnesses during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Ensuring Affordable & Accessible Medications: Examining Competition in the Prescription Drug Market.”  The hearing examined prescription drug prices, competition, and innovation, and how to ensure medications are accessible and affordable for American families.  Durbin first questioned Dr. Will Feldman, a Physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, about the impact of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisements for prescription drugs.  The United States is one of only two developed countries in the world that permits this practice.

“The pharmaceutical industry spends $6 billion—the size of the entire FDA budget—to fill the airwaves with brand-name drug ads.  That way, patients can not only pronounce Xarelto, but can also tell their doctor that this is the blood thinner they want,” Durbin said.

Durbin highlighted the role that DTC ads play in inflating patient demand for certain high-price medications, even if a lower cost generic or alternative intervention may be more appropriate.  Durbin then asked Dr. Feldman about the role of physicians as gatekeepers for prescribing safe, effective, and appropriate medications.

Dr. Feldman responded that “pharmaceutical companies are spending this money on advertising because they think it works… and some doctors receive money from pharmaceutical companies for prescribing certain types of medications.”

Durbin then asked Jocelyn Ulrich, Vice President of Policy & Research at PhRMA, about the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs.  Durbin compared the United States to other countries—where U.S. patients pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world—nearly three times what people in other developed countries pay for common medications. 

“When you hear over and over again the fact that a basic drug being sold to Americans is at a price that is dramatically higher than you’re selling the same drug…in other countries, do you just shrug it off and say, ‘that’s just the luck of the draw,’ or is the fact that Americans are being asked to pay for the innovation and the cost and the profits, whereas other countries put their foot down and say, ‘this is greed and we’re going to stop you?’” Durbin asked. 

Ms. Ulrich argued that “comparisons are often looking at list prices” and do not account for rebates. 

“The list prices are dramatically different—100 percent different.  Why would you do that to American consumers when you’re American companies?” Durbin pressed.

Durbin spoke on the Senate floor yesterday to preview the hearing. The United States has the highest prescription drug prices in the developed world, on average nearly three times higher than what other countries pay for some of the most common medications.  Despite claims that these prices 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 Durbin and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC).

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.