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 GrassleySenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Grassley raises voice after McConnell interrupts Senate speech Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general 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 TrumpTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago after signing bill to avert shutdown CNN, MSNBC to air ad turned down by Fox over Nazi imagery 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 WydenDem lawmaker: 'Trump's presidency is the real national emergency' Dems introduce bill to take gender-specific terms out of tax code to make it LGBT-inclusive 8 surprising times our intel community spied on US citizens 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 CornynPoll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week How the border deal came together 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.