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During Senate hearing, Chuck Grassley accuses drug companies of hiding behind 'complexities' to keep prices high

The leading Democrat on the committee voiced the same concerns

Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), demanded that drug companies not overcharge consumers.

What was this hearing about?

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee heard testimony from pharmaceutical company executives from AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, and Sanofi.

Shortly before the hearing took place, Grassley had appeared on CNBC's Squawk Box, where he criticized the amount of "secrecy" involved with drug pricing.

"[T]ransparency brings accountability, so we need to get some transparency into it," he said.

When Grassley left the Senate Judiciary Committee in order to chair the Senate Finance Committee, he said that he did so in order to address inflated drug prices. In an opinion column in the Des Moines Register, he said that his constituents "deserve to know why a drug that has been on the market for nearly a century – life-saving insulin – has risen in cost by 500 percent in recent years."

In a tweet on Monday, Grassley said that he hoped that the drug CEOs wouldn't "try to blame everyone but themselves," adding that the hearing was about "the part drug [companies] can do to lower costs for patients+taxpayers."


What happened at the hearing?

The executives blamed insurance companies, saying that they weren't properly passing on available refunds to consumers. They also offered an array of possible fixes for the problem.

But Grassley objected to what he saw as a deflection.

"We've all seen the finger-pointing. Every link in the supply chain has gotten skilled at that,'' he said during the hearing, according to the Washington Post. "But like most Americans, I'm sick and tired of the blame game. It's time for solutions.''

He added "We cannot allow anyone to hide behind the current complexities to shield the true cost of drugs."

In what has become an increasingly rare occurrence in D.C. these days, Democrats and Republicans seemed to be united on this issue.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) told the pharmaceutical executives that their business practices were "unacceptable and unsustainable." He said that drugmakers were behaving "as if patients and taxpayers are unlocked ATMs full of cash to be extracted, and their shareholders are the customers they value above all else."

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