Sen. Wyden probes 'secret, sweetheart' deal between Pfizer, Trump

Pfizer made waves when it decided to defer price hikes until the Trump Administration can implement its drug pricing blueprint or until the end of the year, whichever comes sooner. Now, a top Democrat wants to know more about the deal and the conversation that led to the decision.

In letters to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar (PDF) and Pfizer CEO Ian Read (PDF), Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pressed for more details. Writing to Read, Sen. Wyden asked for specifics about which price hikes will be deferred and for info about price increases for the drugs in the last five years. Furthermore, the senator wants to know what the administration specifically agreed to in exchange for the delay, and an estimate for lost revenue due to the delay.

Sen. Wyden wonders whether Pfizer will get any special treatment from the administration in exchange for the price hike delay, according to the letter. A Pfizer spokesperson declined to comment on the letter and referenced a statement (PDF) the company made over its decision to defer the price hikes.

In a separate note to Azar, Sen. Wyden described the developments this week as "long on theatrics and short on real and sustainable relief for patients being mugged at the pharmacy counter." He asked why the talks were not a violation of the federal non-interference clause. In an accompanying statement, Sen. Wyden said that "secret, sweetheart arrangements with pharmaceutical companies are exactly why America’s drug pricing system is broken."

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Pfizer raised the prices on about 40 drugs to start July, according to a note from Wells Fargo analyst David Maris. The decision sparked a harsh reaction from the president, who tweeted that the company "should be ashamed" of the move. Then, President Trump tweeted a day later that Pfizer would be delaying its price hikes.

In a statement, the company said that CEO Ian Read spoke with President Trump and Azar and agreed to delay the price hikes until the administration can implement its drug pricing blueprint, or the end of the year, "whichever is sooner."

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The Trump Administration unveiled its drug pricing blueprint in May. The plan hopes to boost negotiations and competition in the industry, and help patients with lower out-of-pocket costs, among other measures.

After the announcement, many experts and industry watchers said the plan won't bring major changes to pricing right away. Maris, for his part, wrote afterward that the administration is "actually trying to address some of the root causes of price inflation and lack of affordability."