WASHINGTON – At a Senate hearing yesterday focused on waste and fraud in healthcare, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill highlighted the rapidly increasing cost of prescription drugs. As the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, McCaskill’s focus on healthcare spending comes in the wake of a bombshell report she released earlier this year which found that the prices of several of the most popular brand-name drugs in the Medicare Part D program skyrocketed between 2012 and 2017, increasing at almost ten times the annual average rate of inflation in this period.
“[Healthcare] is not a free market—all you have to look at is the pharmaceutical costs and what is happening in this country,” McCaskill said. “I mean, we did an investigation and determined that [prices for] the 20 most-prescribed [brand-name] drugs in the Medicare Part D program have gone up consistently ten times the rate of inflation, five years running. That’s because most of them don’t have competition. That’s because the system is rigged with a bogus patent system and with a barrier to entry for generics and, frankly, the fact that we are refusing to use free market principles by negotiating for volume discounts or allowing re-importation of drugs. It is ridiculous that we are handcuffing Americans with higher costs because we are protecting profits of the pharmaceutical industry.”
Witnesses at the hearing included Eugene Dodaro, Comptroller General at the Government Accountability Office, and Brian Ritchie, Assistant Inspector General for Audit Services at the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.
Last week, McCaskill introduced a bill to combat rising drug prices and enhance transparency in the pharmaceutical market by ensuring companies make clear to consumers where all active pharmaceutical ingredients in their medications are coming from. In March of this year, she also introduced two bipartisan bills to prohibit pharmaceutical “gag clauses,” which lead patients to overpay for their medications.
Last year, McCaskill teamed up with Republican Senator Susan Collins to pass a bipartisan bill to increase competition in the pharmaceutical industry and lower the cost of prescription drugs. In 2016, while serving as the top Democrat on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, she again worked with Collins to launch an intensive investigation into rising drug prices.