Elizabeth Warren to Alex Azar: Where are 'massive' voluntary drug price reductions?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren challenged HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday about a promise by President Trump that drug companies would be announcing "massive" voluntary drug cuts. (C-SPAN)(CSPAN)

During a bill signing ceremony to approve a "Right to Try" bill into law on May 30, President Donald Trump also made a promise regarding the impact of his recent blueprint to reduce prescription drug prices.

"You’re going to have some big news. I think we’re going to have some of the big drug companies in two weeks said they’re going to announce, because of what we did, they’re going to announce voluntary massive drops in prices,” Trump said. 

That two-week period ends Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., pointed out on Tuesday during the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on the president's blueprint.

She said her research—which also included both she and Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., contacting the top 10 drug makers in the U.S.—indicated there is no reason to believe such an announcement will be coming anytime soon.

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"Zero out of 10 said they'd lowered any prices, zero out of 10 gave any indication that they had any plan to do so," Warren said. "Maybe you can clear this up for us, Secretary Azar. Which drug companies will be voluntarily lowering their prices, massively, for which drugs and how much money will the American people save as a result?"

Azar would not name any. Instead, he said companies have indicated to HHS they plan to drop prices but could get penalized by distributors or pharmacy benefit managers as a result. 

"There are actually several drug companies that are looking at substantial and material decreases of drug prices in competitive classes and actually competing with each other in looking to do that," Azar said. "The fear is that they would be discriminated against for decreasing their price." 

Warren interrupted him. "Was that true when the president made the promise?" 

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Azar said again that those drug companies are being blocked from announcing cuts. "You should focus, if I would suggest, on the PBMs and the distributors who might say to these companies, 'Do not decrease your price.'"

But Warren reminded him again of the two-week promise. "We're focusing where the president told us to focus," Warren said.

Already, Trump's statement has been the focus of scrutiny, with top drug lobbyists indicating they were unaware of such plans by any of the major drug companies, Reuters reported. Additionally, The Washington Post reported dozens of drug prices continued to rise following the release of the president's blueprint, including an increase to two of Bayer's cancer drugs by more than $1,000 a month.

But The Hill reported on Monday that HHS officials have been meeting with drug company executives to seek such cuts. Inside Health Policy reported that cuts to insulin drug prices could come as early as this week although Azar made no indication during the hearing that such an announcement was imminent.