This morning, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing on the impact of skyrocketing prescription drug prices on patients. Several witnesses testified about how they were personally harmed by rising costs. In some cases they had to ration their medicine, go deep into debt, or refinance their homes.
Rising drug prices are harming Americans and putting massive strain on our health care system. A recent study found that the cost of brand-name oral prescription drugs rose more than 9 percent a year from 2008 and 2016, while the annual cost of injectable drugs rose more than 15 percent. Insulin prices doubled between 2012 and 2016. And these costs were driven by various price increases, not innovation.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD-7) said that "we are closing this work period the way we started it, with a hearing on prescription drug prices." He observed that many families are forced to choose between caring for themselves or their loved ones and basic expenses, and asked everyone to "imagine having to choose between a roof over your head or saving your child’s life." Drug companies continue to raise prices, rake in record profits, and lavishly reward their executive, all the while stifling competition. Some drugs, Cummings said, are developed with federal funding, yet the industry ignores its responsibility to taxpayers and reaps record profits.
The witnesses were: David Mitchell, Founder and President of Patients for Affordable Drugs
Ashley Krege from Houston, Texas
Sa’ra Skipper from Indianapolis, Indiana
Pamela Holt from Grangier, Indiana
Laura McLinn from Indianapolis, Indiana
David Mitchell talked about how drug prices are harming people. "I have an incurable blood cancer," he told the Committee, "and prescription drugs are keeping me alive...But drugs don't work if people can't afford them." One of the drugs he uses, Revlamid, costs tens of thousands of dollars per year, in large part because Celgene (the company that makes it) refuses to sell samples so that more affordable generic versions can be made. Despite what drug companies tell us, there is no correlation between price hikes and innovation. In fact, the National Institute of Health, which is funded by taxpayers, finances a lot of the basic drug research. Mitchell urged the Committee to reform patent laws to stop abuse by drug companies, give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices, and bring transparency to the drug supply chain, including pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).
Ashely Krege spoke about how she takes Humira to treat a chronic autoimmune condition and how AbbVie, the company that makes Humira, informed her it would increase the price of Humira to $1100 per month. She can't afford this massive increase. And Humira has been on the market since 2002, yet the price has repeatedly gone up. AbbVie has also filed 247 patents on Humira and its development in order to discourage competition and maintain its monopoly. In Europe, where cheaper versions of the drug have come to market, AbbVie has reduce Humira's price by 80%.
Sa'ra Skipper talked about how as a Type 1 diabetic, she needs insulin to live. Insulin prices are so high that at times she has been forced to ration her insulin, or accept donations from her church and community so she can pay for it. Her sister is also a diabetic, and sometimes she doesn't take her insulin so Sa'ra can have an adequate supply, which is terrible for her health.
Pamela Holt is retired, and was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, the same cancer that David Mitchell has. The drugs to treat are so expensive that she has been forced to go into debt and refinance her house. "It’s not right that I face financial ruin because of cancer I have no control over," she said. "I shouldn’t have to lose my savings and stress over finances just to stay alive."
Most of the Democratic committee members were present but only a few Republicans were. The representatives were moved by the witnesses, and promised to do something soon. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) said, "You are entitled to some anger at us [Congress]." Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD-8) described the situation as a crime and a "national scandal" and wanted to get rid of tax breaks for drug company advertising.
One of the most powerful moments came from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-13). She thanked all the witnesses for coming and emphasized the need to be aware that these price hikes harm real people. "We need to push back against corporate greed," she said. "We should be able to provide access to drugs that keep people alive."
This hearing came just one day after the Senate Finance Committee voted in favor of a bill to reduce drug prices. Congress now leaves for its August recess. But when it comes back, we hope it will heed these patients and pass sweeping reforms to lower drug costs.