Congress invites 7 drugmakers to testify at potentially hostile hearing on drug prices. Here's what they're saying

  • Six of the seven invited said they will send their CEOs to Capitol Hill.
  • J&J is sending another executive, but not CEO Alex Gorsky.
  • The hearing is scheduled Feb. 26.
Albert Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer pharmaceutical company, arrives to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange, January 17, 2019.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images
Albert Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer pharmaceutical company, arrives to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange, January 17, 2019.

Drugmakers have been reluctant to agree to testify before Congress at what is shaping up to be a series of hostile hearings examining the industry's drug pricing practices.

None of the companies "invited" to speak at last week's Senate Finance Committee hearing titled "Drug Pricing in America: A Prescription for Change, Part I" showed. But pharmaceutical companies are starting to come around this week, after some not-so-veiled threats by senators to "compel" their executives to testify, likely with subpoenas.

Lawmakers released letters inviting executives from AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer and Sanofi to testify later this month at the hearing: "Drug Pricing in America: A Prescription for Change, Part II."

Six of the seven invited said they will send their CEOs to Capitol Hill. J&J is sending another executive, but not CEO Alex Gorsky. Senate Finance Committee ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had stopped short of threatening to issue a subpoena, indicating that participation at the hearing wasn't entirely voluntary. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is chairman of the committee.

Here's what the pharmaceutical companies are saying:

AbbVie

"[CEO] Rick Gonzalez will be attending the hearing."

AstraZeneca

"We can confirm that our CEO, Pascal Soriot, will present testimony at the February 26th Senate Finance Committee hearing."

Bristol-Myers

"Bristol-Myers Squibb CEO Giovanni Caforio will participate in the Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington, DC on February 26, 2019."

J&J

"Jennifer Taubert, Executive Vice President, Worldwide Chairman, Pharmaceuticals, will be representing Johnson & Johnson at this hearing."

"The decision to have Jennifer Taubert represent J&J at the hearing reflects her leadership and expertise in the industry as the head of Janssen, which is one the of the sector's largest companies."

Merck

"We share the committee's goal of reducing patient out-of-pocket costs and are committed to working with Senators Grassley and Wyden on innovative policy ideas. Our CEO, Ken Frazier, will be there to discuss solutions with the committee later this month."

Pfizer

"I can now confirm that Pfizer's CEO Albert Bourla has accepted the Senate Finance Committee's invitation to testify on February 26th, and looks forward to a productive discussion on how to best serve the needs of American patients."

Sanofi

"Dr. Olivier Brandicourt accepts the Chairman's and Ranking Member's invitation to testify at the Senate Committee on Finance hearing on drug pricing on February 26. We are grateful for the opportunity to share Sanofi's commitment to increasing access and affordability for patients as well as share our views about potential policy solutions to reduce costs and improve affordability."

The invitations come as Democrats make moves to lower prescription drug costs.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., last month said he sent letters to 12 drugmakers seeking detailed information and documents about the companies' pricing practices. (AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Sanofi were among the 12.) It has yet to be determined whether they'll be asked to testify before the House panel.

Democrats also sent letters to Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi requesting information on insulin prices.

President Donald Trump, who also touched on high drug prices during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, has also vowed to bring prices down.

President Donald Trump and Kenneth Frazier
Bloomberg | Getty Images
President Donald Trump and Kenneth Frazier

The Trump administration last week proposed a ban on "backdoor deals" that pharmaceutical companies cut with middlemen who get preferred status for their drugs in Medicare's prescription drug plans.

Lawmakers in the Senate have already introduced at least two separate bipartisan bills aimed at lowering drug costs. One would make it easier for generic competition and the other would support parts of Trump's proposal.

Last month Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Reps. Cummings and Ro Khanna, D-Calif., introduced legislation that would allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare, among other measures.

Pharmaceutical companies say that price increases have been modest and argue that lowering drug profits would hinder the industry in making investments towards new and innovative cures. They applauded the administration's pursuit to change the nation's rebate system.

CNBC's Jodi Gralnick contributed to this report.

Correction: Bernie Sanders is an independent U.S. senator from Vermont. An earlier version misstated his title. The article has been updated to include company responses as they were received.