Pharmacy ‘middlemen’ hearing should spur ban on ‘secrecy’

The Senate Finance Committee’s hearing with executives via pharmacy benefit managers will hopefully soon be followed by legislation to bring drug prices down as well as end the “secrecy” inside the drug industry, Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley told CNBC on Tuesday.

Executives via CVS Health, Cigna, OptumRx, a subsidiary of UnitedHealthcare, Prime Therapeutics as well as Humana, are scheduled to testify later inside the day about high prescription drug costs. PBMs, sometimes referred to as “middlemen,” negotiate discounts with manufacturers for insurance plans as well as employers.

Grassley as well as various other lawmakers suspect these so-called backdoor deals between drug companies as well as pharmacy middlemen contribute to the high drug costs some consumers see at the pharmacy counter.

“There’s a lot of secrecy. There’s not a whole lot of understanding of the role they play,” Grassley said in a “Squawk Box” interview. “Our goal is actually to end This specific secrecy, get to transparency. With transparency comes accountability.”

The hearing Tuesday, led by Grassley, as well as Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., marks the committee’s third on drug prices This specific year. In late February, the committee heard testimony via executives of AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer as well as Sanofi.

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The pharma executives at the time pointed the blame at middlemen for pocketing discounts instead of passing them along to patients. The executives didn’t commit to, or even suggest, lowering their list prices. Some referenced these prices as simply the cost of which’s advertised, not what consumers actually pay.

High drug costs have become a rare bipartisan issue. President Donald Trump has made lowering prices one of the key issues of his administration, as well as Democrats are jockeying to prove they can lead reform.

Grassley said Tuesday there’s already plenty of proposed legislation to bring down drug costs. He mentioned the CREATES Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., which aims to stop drugmakers via withholding samples of their medicines via generic manufacturers, thus increasing competition as well as lowering costs.