Drugmakers Pressed to Explain Pricing as House Panel Opens Probe

(Bloomberg) -- House Democrats began what they said would be a wide-ranging investigation into how the pharmaceutical industry sets prices, moving quickly on an issue where there appears to be accord with the White House.

The Committee on Oversight and Reform asked for detailed information about pricing practices from a dozen companies on specific medications, including bestsellers such as AbbVie Inc.’s Humira and Amgen Inc.’s Enbrel, which are used to treat autoimmune diseases; Pfizer Inc.’s pain drug Lyrica; and Sanofi’s diabetes treatment Lantus.

Also under scrutiny are medications available in generic formulations, including AstraZeneca Plc’s cholesterol medicine Crestor and Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd.’s multiple sclerosis treatment Copaxone.

“For years, drug companies have been aggressively increasing prices on existing drugs and setting higher launch prices for new drugs while recording windfall profits,” said Democratic Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s chairman. “The goals of this investigation are to determine why drug companies are increasing prices so dramatically, how drug companies are using the proceeds, and what steps can be taken to reduce prescription drug prices.”

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Drug manufacturers have been under increasing pressure over the cost of their medications. President Donald Trump has lambasted price hikes and persuaded manufacturers to limit some annual increases taken by many companies. In the past week, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have proposed new legislation to rein in drug prices.

The pressure hasn’t yet curtailed soaring costs, as drug companies boosted U.S. list prices on hundreds of treatments in recent weeks.

Pharmaceutical companies have defended their practices by saying the cost of developing new therapies is high. Some drugmakers have promised to try to increase transparency around drug costs by posting more information about their pricing practices online, among other measures.

The desire to contain high prescription-drug costs is a rare area of partisan agreement in Washington. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar tweeted last week that “prices must come down,” praising Merck & Co., Gilead Sciences and Amgen for lower prices. Neither Merck nor Gilead were sent letters by the committee, according to a list posted on the panel’s website.

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