Do congressional hearings on high drug prices actually solve anything

Call me a cynic, but my impression is neither party has any interest in passing laws that might actually work to reduce drug prices because neither party wants to offend the rich. There are outliers here and there (Warren or Sanders) but their party won’t let them pass genuine reform. If the democrats had any interest in passing genuine pharma reform, they would’ve done so in 2009 when they had 60 senators.

Congress has held several hearings on insulin prices over the last few decades, and then there were hearings about epipens recently.

But as far as I can tell, nothing is actually done that will lower costs. Granted, lowering costs isn’t that hard.

  1. Make it easier for domestic competitors to enter the market for generic drugs.

  2. Make it easier for international competitors to enter the marketplace for branded and generic drugs (aka import drugs from other nations with lower prices).

  3. Use the power of the public sector to bulk negotiate prices.

  4. Change patent law so drugs can become generics faster.

etc. Of course, none of them is ever implemented.

I guess my point is, is this all a dog and pony show or does this actually ever lead to reforms that make medication more affordable?

It doesn’t lead to actual reforms. But it usually brings enough attention to the issue that pharmaceutical companies lower some prices to avoid negative publicity.

Why bother with new “laws” when there’s a 100+ year old body of law already there (15 USC 1) that is routinely ignored already?

If the DoJ applied the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act, and the Robinson-Patman Act as passed and as amended, and actual criminal and civil prosecutions followed resulting in a whole lot of companies (pharmaceutical, medical, hospital, “pharmacy benefit managers”, and the like) losing their businesses because of the extremely heavy fines required under those Laws, as well as a whole lot of executives, company leaders, managers, and purveyors of the 'bezzle going to jail for extended punitive terms, well, I think the whole problem could be solved in a matter of days.

Anti-trust law can’t be used to fix 80-90% of the problem almost immediately? Well, one might ask John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil of New Jersey, AT&T, and Microsoft if anti-trust law “works”…

Why bother with new “laws”? That leads directly to, “Why bother with congressional hearings?”

So, “dog and pony show” is all any of that is. But that’s just an opinion held by a whole lot of people.

Of course they work.

Congresscritter holds a hearing.
Local paper does a nice article featuring them and the hearing.
The article appears in campaign ads.
Re-elect Iam N. Theirpockets! Your friend on Capitol Hill.

Wouldn’t anti-trust just apply to price fixing? I don’t know anti-trust law too well. How does anti-trust jive with exclusive patents? Would anti-trust make it easier for domestic manufacturers or foreign vendors to sell in US markets?

Can states file anti-trust suits or just the federal government?

There was a big anti-trust case involving price fixing among generic drug manufacturers uncovered just recently:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/investigation-of-generic-cartel-expands-to-300-drugs/2018/12/09/fb900e80-f708-11e8-863c-9e2f864d47e7_story.html?utm_term=.7e76ef2bd34e

Every State has anti-trust, consumer protection, corrupt business practices, restraint of trade, and other kinds of laws on the books: https://statelaws.findlaw.com/consumer-laws/antitrust.html. I don’t believe the States are doing such a good job, either.

Indeed, it is a form of political theatre. Everyone has a role to play, and it is somewhat scripted in that everyone has likely agreed to which questions (generally) will be asked in advance as a condition of appearing. The Congressperson gets to signal their support/antagonism through their questions, the drug manufactures get to appear publicly chastised. Maybe they slow down their price increases for a while until it all blows over (but probably not). More likely they instead spend a lot on ad campaigns that show puppies and kitties and babies and old people and promote how wonderful they are at helping everyone!

But then I am probably being a little pollyanna about the whole thing. :smiley: