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Drug company executives to testify before U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Seven drug company executives will testify about rising prescription drug prices before a powerful U.S. Senate Committee on Tuesday, marking a sharp escalation in lawmakers’ promises to address high medicine costs.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of AstraZeneca is seen on medication packages in a pharmacy in London April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

Executives from Abbvie Inc, AstraZeneca PLC, Sanofi SA, Pfizer Inc, Merck & Co, Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co are all expected to answer questions from members of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee.

Congress has already held several hearings on rising prescription drug prices in both the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-led Senate, but Tuesday’s hearing is the first time drug company executives will face lawmakers in more than two years.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said drugmakers are “getting away with murder,” and his administration has made bringing down prescription medicine prices a top priority. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last year rolled out a plan to lower drug prices and has introduced several modest proposals to curb medicine costs, but Democrats have said Trump and his administration are not doing enough.

Several drugmakers temporarily froze price increases last year after criticism from Trump, but they raised prices on more than 250 prescription drugs at the start of this year.

Pharmaceutical companies have blamed high research and development costs for their prices and after-market discounts called rebates that they must provide to pharmacy benefits managers in order to gain patient access to their products by having them included on preferred coverage lists. HHS has proposed a rule to eliminate rebates in Medicare and Medicaid, the government health insurance programs.

In prepared remarks, all seven company executives pointed to their records of innovation in developing lifesaving medications, and several noted they have spent billions of dollars on research and development.

“American research-based companies are leading the next wave of biomedical innovation to help patients whose diseases cannot be adequately treated with today’s medicines. We should work to ensure policies that support and reward these investments,” said Bristol-Myers Chief Executive Giovanni Caforio.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican, wrote on Twitter on Monday that he hoped the executives on Tuesday “don’t try to blame everyone but themselves/take no responsibility for their role in fixing the problem.”

Caforio and other executives called for reform of rebates that pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) receive from drugmakers. And he spoke out against a Trump administration plan that would seek to lower prescription drug prices for the government’s Medicare program by basing its prices for some medications on the lower prices paid in other countries.

Reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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