GOP chairman: I'll be 'insistent' on drug companies testifying on their prices

GOP chairman: I'll be 'insistent' on drug companies testifying on their prices
© Stefani Reynolds

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyScandal in Puerto Rico threatens chance at statehood Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Democrat: Treasury 'acknowledged the unprecedented process' in Trump tax return rejection MORE (R-Iowa) said Tuesday he will be “insistent” on having drug company executives testify in front of his committee after he said all but two companies declined an invitation.

Grassley, the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, made the comments as his panel began a series of hearings looking into the high price of drugs, an issue that could hold potential for bipartisan action this year given President TrumpDonald John TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade MORE and House Democrats are also focused on the problem.

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Grassley said he invited drug companies to testify at Tuesday’s hearing, but all except two smaller companies refused to testify publicly, instead saying they would speak in private. He declined to name the companies that refused to come when asked by reporters after the hearing.

Asked if he would compel companies to testify by issuing subpoenas, Grassley demurred, but indicated he will get the testimony.

“They'll appear,” he said when asked about issuing a subpoena. “I don't want to use that word because it's a club that you shouldn't have to use when you've got legitimate questions to ask on the basis of transparency.”

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrat: Treasury 'acknowledged the unprecedented process' in Trump tax return rejection Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid Top Democrat demands answers on election equipment vulnerabilities MORE (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the panel, was sharper in his remarks, comparing drug companies to tobacco companies.

“They all lied to me but at least they showed up,” Wyden said. “Drugmakers are going to have to show up as well.”

The hearing featured an array of experts on drug pricing and gave lawmakers a chance to air their concerns.

Republican senators, in particular, are being watched closely for how far they are willing to go in taking on drug companies, a powerful group in Washington.

Some GOP senators, such as Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Hillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school MORE (R-Texas), questioned the system of rebates that drug companies pay to negotiators known as pharmacy benefit managers, saying the system lacks transparency and does not pass benefits on to patients.

Cornyn also questioned why insulin prices are so high even though the drug is not a new discovery.

“It strikes me as bizarre that 100 years after insulin was started to be used to treat diabetes, that we still have a system that guarantees an inflated price even though the cost of the research and development, which I thought was the rationale in the first place, is inapplicable,” Cornyn said.

Grassley stressed that he wanted to move forward on legislation on “transparency.”

"There's too much secrecy in this business,” he said.