Senator to Pfizer CEO: Stop playing 'political games' with drug prices

Pfizer building
Pfizer plans to raise prices on 41 drugs in January. (Tracy Staton)

Once again, Pfizer is in hot water with a politician for raising prices. This time, it's Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who's accusing the drugmaker of playing "political games" rather than taking real action to hold down the cost of drugs.

Pfizer famously deferred its price increases last summer after President Donald Trump shamed the company on Twitter, but just recently said it would roll out a routine set of hikes at the beginning of January. In a letter to outgoing CEO Ian Read, Baldwin demanded specifics about those price increases, numbers on manufacturing and marketing costs, and Pfizer's justification for the hikes.

“Leading drug companies' continued inaction to address rising prices in a serious way is exactly why we need transparency and accountability,” the senator wrote.

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It's Baldwin's second letter to Read in a matter of months. This summer, after Pfizer delayed its planned price hikes, Baldwin urged the CEO to work seriously to address prescription drug costs rather than merely delaying Pfizer's pricing changes.

“Instead of playing games with the costs of prescription drugs that millions of Americans depend on, you should make a firm and clear commitment to permanently roll back prices,” she wrote at the time. 

A Pfizer spokeswoman said the company received Baldwin's latest letter and is preparing a response.

RELATED: Pfizer, plotting 41 price hikes for January, returns to 'business as normal' after price-raising pause 

But in October, Pfizer’s Read told analysts on the company’s third-quarter call Pfizer would be ready to return to “business as normal” on pricing in 2019. In November, the company disclosed plans to increase 41 drug prices. Pfizer plans to raise list prices on 37 drugs by 5%, one drug by 9% and three drugs by 3% on Jan. 15.

Sen. Baldwin hasn't just criticized pharma's pricing. Last year, she and late Sen. John McCain, along with Rep. Jan Schakowsky, introduced the FAIR Drug Pricing Act in an attempt to force more transparency ahead of drug price increases. 

Aside from drug pricing, Sen. Baldwin has also hit out at Pfizer’s windfall from the tax changes Congress implemented last year. This summer, she wondered whether the company would consider dropping its $10 billion stock buyback program and instead use the money to lower drug prices. 

Read is serving as Pfizer's CEO until Jan. 1, when the company will hand the reins to current COO Albert Bourla.

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