Congressional Update on the Drug Industry and Pricing Practices

PolticoPro: By Sarah Owermohle and Dan Diamond

The drug industry must start explaining its pricing practices, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley told POLITICO’s “Pulse Check” podcast ahead of his panel’s Tuesday hearing on drug pricing — the first in a series of pharma-focused hearings Grassley plans to hold.

“The secrecy we have now, the lack of transparency … is something that allows the shenanigans that we read about every day,” Grassley said on the podcast, alluding to reports of drug price hikes. He also suggested that committee investigations could lead to legislation, depending on what his oversight work reveals.

“Transparency brings accountability, but I don’t want those two words to [have people] thinking that’s where I’m going to stop,” Grassley added.

Grassley’s committee is divided on how best to approach high drug prices. Ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced a bill, S. 62 (116), to give the government negotiating power in Medicare Part D — a popular stance for Democrats, but a red line for Grassley and many Republicans.

“Except for that issue, I think we can do a lot of things together,” said Grassley, who is one of few Republicans to support importing drugs from Canada. That proposal also has broad Democratic support.

Grassley also said that he is open to “modernizing” Medicare Part D and investigating how pharmacy benefit managers use rebates. The Trump administration has accused PBMs of artificially inflating drug prices and is preparing a rule that could overhaul the rebate system.

Grassley’s hearing comes at the same time the House Oversight Committee will hold its first hearing on drug prices under Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), a fierce critic of the industry’s pricing practices. Grassley pushed back on suggestions that Democrats have been more aggressive at seeking drug price reforms.

“I think I’ve showed my colors on pay-for-delay and CREATES,” Grassley said, referring to legislation he’s previously introduced that would address some branded drugmakers’ maneuvers to keep generic or biosimilar competition off the market.

Grassley also dismissed news reports that drugmakers aren’t worried about his proposals. “I’m not out to scare anybody,” Grassley said. “I’m out to have transparency.”​