Kenneth Frazier, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Merck & Co., Inc., testifies before the Senate Finance Committee hearing on drug prices, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The Latest: Pharma CEOs push back on quick fixes for prices

February 26, 2019 - 12:07 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on top pharmaceutical executives testifying before Senate lawmakers on rising drug prices (all times local):

12:05 p.m.

Pharmaceutical industry executives testifying before Congress say quick fixes to lower drug prices could jeopardize future medical breakthroughs.

CEOs for Pfizer, Merck, AbbVie and four other drugmakers answered questions before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. It's the first time top industry officials have been called to account for how they price their medicines.

But Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier warns that "outrageous solutions" to drug costs could sacrifice industry innovation. It's a longstanding industry argument used to defend prices on everything from high-tech cancer drugs to diabetes medicines.

Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt says using government "price controls" would not be enough to make medicines affordable for patients.

Pharmaceutical companies often launch their drugs with high initial prices, which usually increase every year. Drugmakers can generally charge as much as the market will bear because the U.S. government doesn't regulate medicine prices.

President Donald Trump and Democrats have promised to bring prices down.

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11:20 a.m.

A top Republican senator is warning pharmaceutical executives to give open, honest answers to congressional questions about rising drug prices.

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley on Tuesday opened a high-stakes hearing in which CEOs from seven major pharmaceutical companies will face pointed questions about how they price their medicines. Grassley chairs the Senate Finance Committee and says lawmakers won't ignore industry tactics used to block lower-cost drugs and keep prices high.

Ranking Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon says the pharmaceutical industry treats patients like "unlocked ATMs full of cash to be extracted."

The hearing marks the first time lawmakers have called top industry executives to account for rising prices that are squeezing Americans.

President Donald Trump and Democrats have promised to bring prices down. Drug prices could provide a rare bipartisan issue on which Congress and the White House could collaborate on legislation this year.

The CEOs say prices reflect investment in research and development.

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10:15 a.m.

The CEOs of seven major pharmaceutical companies are facing a hostile grilling from senators over high prescription drug prices that are a drain Medicare and Medicaid and a burden to millions of Americans.

The companies have collected tens of billions of dollars from government programs in recent years for brand-name medications to treat everything from high cholesterol to rheumatoid arthritis, cancer to HIV infection. List prices for top drugs keep rising.

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, but Tuesday's Finance Committee hearing marks a change as lawmakers and President Donald Trump appear to be moving toward curbing costs.

Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa says Congress wants answers on why prices are so high.

The CEOs say prices reflect investment in research and development.

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