"The American people have a right to know why it is that they pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs," said the Vermont senator.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and every Democratic member of the committee he chairs sent letters on Tuesday inviting the CEOs of three major pharmaceutical companies to testify at an upcoming hearing on the nation's prescription drug costs, which are so high that millions of Americans are forced to ration their medications to save money.
"The American people have a right to know why it is that they pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs while the pharmaceutical industry in the U.S. makes hundreds of billions in profits and pays their CEOs tens of millions of dollars in compensation," Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said in a statement.
In letters to the top executives of Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Bristol Myers Squibb, Sanders and his Democratic colleagues asked, "How does it happen that one out of four Americans cannot afford to take the medicine their doctors prescribe while prescription drug companies make billions in profits and pay their executives exorbitant compensation packages?"
"How does it happen," the letters continue, "that the median price of new prescription drugs in the United States was over $220,000 last year, while the pharmaceutical industry spent billions on stock buybacks and dividends?"
Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Bristol Myers Squibb are some of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry's biggest offenders when it comes to charging Americans exorbitant prices for medications that can be purchased at a fraction of the cost in other countries.
In a statement, Sanders' office pointed to Johnson & Johnson and AbbVie's Imbruvica, a blood cancer drug that carries a list price of roughly $204,000 for an annual supply in the U.S. The drug sells for $46,000 annually in the United Kingdom and $43,000 in Germany.
Imbruvica is one of the 10 drugs that the Biden administration selected for an initial round of price negotiations with Medicare, which was empowered to directly negotiate prescription medicine costs with pharmaceutical companies under the Inflation Reduction Act.
The three companies run by the invited executives have all sued the Biden administration over the Medicare price negotiations. In September, a federal judge in Ohio rejected an effort by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to halt the negotiations.
Sanders said Tuesday that he looks forward to "hearing from the CEOs of large pharmaceutical companies directly on this critical issue."
"I also look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to lower the outrageously high price of prescription drugs," the senator added. "A lifesaving drug is not effective if the patient who needs that drug cannot afford it."
The hearing—titled "Why Does the United States Pay, By Far, the Highest Prices in the World for Prescription Drugs?"—is set to take place on January 25, 2024.