Companies report no signs of drugmakers cutting prices, despite Trump pledge

Companies report no signs of drugmakers cutting prices, despite Trump pledge
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Several companies that manage prescription drug benefits for insurers say they have not received any commitments from drugmakers to lower list prices. 

Express Scripts, Humana, MedImpact, Optum RX and Prime Therapeutics all wrote in letters to Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her More Massachusetts Voters Prefer Deval Patrick for President than Elizabeth Warren Trump's trade war — firing all cannons or closing the portholes? MORE (D-Mass) and Tina SmithTina Flint SmithElection Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls Farm bill must protect working lands conservation programs Kavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates MORE (D-Minn.) that they have not received commitments from drug manufacturers to lower drug prices. 


President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE said earlier this summer that drugmakers would soon announce "massive" and "voluntary" price cuts, but so far Merck is the only company to decrease the costs of some medicines.

Other drugmakers have announced freezes of planned price increases for the remainder of the year.

The companies were responding to letters that the two senators sent questioning their roles in drug pricing. 

Warren and Smith specifically asked about Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar's comments that blamed pharmacy benefit managers and drug distributors for blocking drugmakers from lowering list prices. 

An HHS spokesperson told The Hill in a statement Saturday that the department received the letter from Warren and Smith and plans to respond to it.

"… [T]he Secretary has made it clear that the incentives of the system are broken. Every actor — from manufacturers to benefit managers — involved in the current market benefits from higher prices — except patients," the spokesperson said. "We are structurally rebuilding this entire segment of the economy to lead to enduring lower prices that are sustainable and support innovation."

The companies contacted by the senators, which also included CVS Health and drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, CardinalHealth and McKesson, denied that they were working to keep prices high. 

Azar said at a Senate hearing in July that drugmakers were looking at substantial decreases of drug prices. But he said he had been told by pharmacy benefit managers and drug distributors that they could lose access to patients or be removed from lists of drugs covered by insurers, called a "formulary." 

"Regarding Secretary Azar's comments that drug companies would like to lower prices but the pharmacy benefit managers have not been cooperating, I want to assure you that this is not the case for CVS Health," wrote Melissa Schulman, the company's senior vice president for government and public affairs, in a response to the senators.


Express Scripts also wrote that it has not discouraged or pushed back against any drugmaker efforts to lower list prices. 

"We have, however, 'pushed back' against the characterization that pharmacy benefit managers, like Express Scripts, are responsible for drug price increases," wrote Jonah Houts, the company's vice president for corporate government affairs.

Warren and Smith, in a letter to Azar released Friday, questioned whether he was coordinating with drugmakers attacks on industry middlemen.

The senators provided Azar with a list of questions they want answered by Aug. 31.

-- Updated Aug. 18, 4:50 p.m.