Congress wants GAO to probe drug prices

That AARP drug-price study didn't just inspire House lawmakers to stand firm on their healthcare reform bill, it's also touched off calls for a Government Accountability Office investigation.

Four House Democrats and one senator wrote the GAO, asking the nonpartisan watchdog to probe pharma's recent pricing practices. Citing the New York Times story about the AARP price study, the letter implies that drugmakers are hiking prices now to combat cost-control measures imposed by healthcare reform. "Any price gouging is unacceptable, but anticipatory price gouging is especially offensive," they wrote. They also want GAO to come up with a plan for monitoring drug pricing.

The letter notes that previous GAO investigations found that drug prices grew faster during years "just prior to passage of major legislation extending coverage for prescription drugs," namely the Medicare Part D drug benefit. In the year before that measure passed, prices for a basket of branded meds grew by 7 percent, compared with about 4 percent during each of the previous two years.

Meanwhile, the Energy & Commerce committee put out a press release touting the House version of healthcare reform, particularly the measures that drugmakers like least: Medicare price negotiations, Part D rebates on drugs for patients who qualify for Medicaid and Medicare (a.k.a. dual-eligibles) and pricing transparency. Stay tuned; the GAO letters asks for a report double-quick.

- read the letter to GAO
- see the House release
- check out the story in the New York Times