Lawmakers blast pharma for 'outrageous' prices and 'anticompetitive conduct' in culmination of 3-year probe

For years, drugmakers have targeted "weaknesses" in the U.S. healthcare system to reap dividends on older meds, The House Oversight Committee said Friday.

The "outrageous prices" and "anticompetitive conduct" that dictate the market make a strong case for the passing of President Joe Biden's Build Back Better Act, which would allow Medicare to petition for lower prices on certain drugs like insulin, committee chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) argued

The findings mark the culmination of an almost three-year probe into the industry's pricing strategies, launched by the late Rep. Elijah Cummings in 2019. The report cites more than 1.5 million pages of internal company documents that shed light on "the decision-making of many of the world's most profitable drug companies," the Oversight Committee said. The investigation specifically focused on 12 drugs from companies such as Sanofi, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Novo Nordisk. 

"Drug companies have raised prices relentlessly for decades while manipulating the patent system and other laws to delay competition from lower-priced generics," Rep. Maloney said in a statement.

RELATED: Democrats' drug pricing deal is 'not a bad outcome' for pharma, analysts write

Looking at just seven of the dozen drugs in the probe—Humira, Imbruvica, Sensipar, Enbrel, Lantus, NovoLog and Lyrica—the committee's analysis found that U.S. taxpayers could have saved more than $25 billion over a five-year stretch if private Medicare Part D plans had the same negotiating power as their foreign counterparts. 

Meanwhile, pharma companies "abuse" the U.S. patent system and FDA market exclusivity to stifle competition, the Oversight Committee said. Its investigation turned up more than 600 patents on the 12 drugs examined.

The committee also chided the industry on its use of patient-assistance programs. Drugmakers often see these programs as potent public relations tools to boost sales, especially for drugs heading toward a patent cliff, the committee said. Internal documents suggest companies' spending on these programs is eclipsed by the "enormous" amount of revenue the associated drugs bring in.

"These programs often do not provide sustainable support for patients and do not address the burden that the company's pricing practices have placed on the U.S. health care system," the committee said. 

RELATED: Novo Nordisk, Sanofi and Eli Lilly cut insulin prices and lose share in China's latest cost squeeze

The report also homed in on insulin titans Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi. The triumvirate controls some 90% of the insulin market in the U.S., Reuters points out. Medicare could have saved more than $16.7 billion between 2011 and 2017 on purchases of the insulin products Humalog, Lantus and NovoLog, had it been able to angle for discounts. 

Meanwhile, despite the Build Back Better Act's promise to curb pricey prescription drug costs, Evercore ISI analysts recently branded the Medicare framework "negotiation in name only." The plan will empower Medicare to hash out costs on just 10 of the country's most-expensive medicines starting in 2025, with more drugs to be added gradually down the line.