Senate panel delays drug pricing bill markup until after blockbuster hearing with big PBM, pharma execs

A key Senate panel has postponed a markup hearing on several bills aimed at drug pricing until after the heads of three major drug companies and three pharmacy benefit managers appear before legislators.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee convened Tuesday morning to discuss four pieces of legislation aimed at tackling the rising costs of drugs in the U.S., including a bill that would push significant reforms to the PBM industry.

Instead, the committee will markup the bills on May 11, one day after hosting a blockbuster hearing on insulin and other drug pricing issues. The hearing will include testimony from Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen, Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson, CVS Health President of Pharmacy Services David Joyner, Express Scripts President Adam Kautzner and OptumRx CEO Heather Cianfrocco.

Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, said in opening statements that the bills on the agenda were not the only steps legislators planned to take around drug pricing.

"For anyone here who thinks this is going to be the end of what we do on prescription drugs, I have bad news for you," Sanders said. "This is not the end; this is the beginning."

"All over this country, people are sick and tired of being ripped off by drug companies," Sanders added.

The committee was set to weigh several amendments to the bills, including additional provisions around generic drugs and patent exclusivity. However, about an hour into the session, Republican committee members raised concerns about voting on these amendments while they were missing data from the Food and Drug Administration as well as the Congressional Budget Office.

Ranking Member Bill Cassidy, M.D., R-Louisiana, said he supported most if not all of the amendments on a personal level but was dissatisfied with Democrats' adherence to procedure. 

The panel adjourned to a lengthy recess before Sanders returned to announce the postponement.

As drug prices continue to rise, PBMs and drugmakers have pointed the finger at one another as to who holds responsibility for the issue. Wednesday's hearing will pit the leaders of three major pharmas against the heads of the three largest PBMs.

Sanders said there's likely truth in the arguments from both sides.

"The reality is, both of them are right," he said. That's why stepping is something Congress "has got to do."