WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered remarks during today’s hearing on prescription drugs.
Click here to watch the hearing live.
Cassidy’s speech as prepared for delivery can be found below:
Thank you, Chair Sanders.
Everyone on this committee cares deeply about the high cost of prescription drugs and wants to work on real solutions to address.
It was clear from the beginning, however, that this hearing is not about finding serious legislative solutions.
We’ve fallen into a formula:
Publicly attack private citizens for being successful under capitalism. Grossly oversimplify a problem and blame corporations. Demand CEOs come before this committee for a public, verbal stoning. Reject their offer to send top executives with subject matter expertise and responsibility regarding the issues at hand. Threaten a subpoena when CEOs are frankly suspicious they won’t get a fair shake. Hold the hearing. Get some sound bites. Then pick a new group of CEOs for the next show trial, but never pass meaningful legislation.
If that sounds familiar, it could have been the hearing with Starbucks founder Howard Schultz or Moderna’s CEO Stephane Bancel. And now this hearing will follow the same stale pattern.
I would have gladly joined the Chair in exploring solutions to address the high cost of prescription drugs. There are perverse incentives that contribute to this. Bad actors game the system. We need solutions benefiting patients and improving access.
But the Majority made it clear they weren’t interested in working with the Minority to hold a serious hearing to inform serious legislation. They did not seek Republican input. The goal was to haul in CEOs, decry capitalism, and blame these companies for the problem of high drug prices.
Drug companies play a role. Hopefully, we can get answers today to legitimate questions about how they price drugs. But this problem is much greater and more complex than individual companies.
Why do Americans pay more for certain drugs than patients in other countries? To understand, we need to have a serious effort to navigate the network of perverse incentives throughout our health care system.
Taking a substantive look at insurance benefit design, price transparency, regulatory barriers, intellectual property barriers, and the perverse effect government discount programs have upon prices charged to commercial patients.
As an example, the 340B drug program resulted in $54 billion in drug discounts in 2022. But, we don’t know if those discounts actually lowered prices patients paid for drugs. This is a serious investigation being conducted by this side of the dais that the Chair declined to participate in.
I understand the Chair wishes to have Medicare-for-all, and will cherry-pick examples of how other countries are doing something better than we. I could cherry-pick the opposite.
Canada is struggling with specialty care. In May of last year, the Canadian government began to send 4,800 Canadians from British Columbia to Washington State to quote: “ensure people have faster access to life-saving radiation treatment.” They can afford their system because our system is right next door.
Related, Allison Ducluzeau, a Canadian woman, paid for her own treatment in the United States after the Provincial Health Authority in British Columbia denied her access to lifesaving chemotherapy.
We're not perfect. But don't cherry pick the examples of other countries doing better than we without doing a thorough investigation of how there are problems with all.
Let’s return to prescriptions. Yes, Canadians pay less than we. We need to find out why. But let's also point out that public health insurance in Canada only covers 21 percent of newly developed drugs. Try to tell somebody in the United States they can’t have access to a lifesaving drug. I'll see you in court. The UK only covers 48 percent of newly available drugs. One more time, Americans typically don't tolerate that.
It’s fair to say that Ms. Ducluzeau, or those radiation treatment patients or those not getting the newly-developed, lifesaving drugs, might die in those other countries because they don't have access to the same treatments as we do in the United States.
These are serious questions. As a doctor, by the way, I am so aware of these questions. But we need to actually fully consider this as opposed to pulling people to the dock before we actually investigate.
As I said at the start, I wish this were a genuine exercise. I am willing to do the work, my colleagues are too. And we’ve shown we’ve done it through our work on PBM reforms and generic drugs. And frankly, the Chair and I got off to a rocky start and then we really worked together crafting bipartisan legislation that has a good chance of passing into law which will lower drug prices for constituents.
But this committee has devolved into CEO whack a mole with little to show.
Further proof of the unserious and cynical nature of this hearing is the Chair denying the Minority from having a witness on the panel before us. Senate rules require that the minority party be allowed to select a witness to participate in Committee hearings. The Chair barred our witness, an academic expert in drug pricing who could provide unbiased and substantive input to the issues at hand. Our witness was not allowed to be on this panel. We know he'll be on the next panel, which will be very poorly attended.
We did not split the Majority and Minority witnesses into different panels during the several hearings to promote labor union bosses. I can think of no reason to not allow our witness to be there now, except perhaps ruining a photo opportunity of the CEOs the Chair successfully hauled before us.
As I said at our last markup, hollow messaging like today’s hearing is one of the worst things about Washington.
You're trying to tell voters you’re doing something when you know at the get-go you’ll accomplish nothing.
That’s why people distrust what happens here.
If this is just to get social media clips of members taking it to a quote unquote greedy CEO, then I suppose that is what some people want to accomplish. But if we want to really make a difference for the people we work for, our ultimate goal needs to be a bill signing ceremony, not a press release or a viral Instagram video. We have the ability to craft meaningful legislation to address these issues. Let’s do it.