Viewpoint: Why hasn't Congress put pharma CEOs 'on the hot seat'?

Despite ongoing concern over drug prices and a number of other industry CEOs facing the Capitol Hill hot seat in the last six months — including Wells Fargo's Tim Sloan and Equifax's Richard Smith — pharmaceutical company executives have managed to escape congressional testimony, according to a STAT report.

Since President Donald Trump came to office with pledges of decreasing drug prices and accusing pharma companies of "getting away with murder," no pharma industry CEO has faced the Capitol Hill spotlight, STAT reports separately.

When STAT asked several committee chairmen why Congress hasn't recently asked pharma CEOs to appear before a congressional panel, most suggested Congress has yet to see a need to, which some industry critics may see as a mistake.

"Congress should do oversight here and should call in the CEOs to at least explain themselves, justify their behavior — if they can," John Rother, president of the National Coalition on Health Care and an advocate for lower drug prices, told STAT.

However, there is little incentive for CEOs to enter the public view, Tim LaPira, PhD, associate professor of political science at James Madison University, told STAT. "If I'm one of these CEOs, I'd rather sit back and be out of the public view while my trade association is saying the same thing I'd be saying anyway," Dr. LaPira said. "That's why I pay dues to these trade associations — it's their job to stick their neck out, to hire the experts, keep in contact with the members of Congress who are leading these investigations."

Despite the lack of drugmaker CEOs on Capitol Hill, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry's main trade association, has frequently testified before lawmakers. Lori Reilly, PhRMA's executive vice president for policy, research and membership, testified at least three times in the last six months, including a December hearing in which she appeared with other trade association executives who represented biotech companies, pharmacy benefit managers, pharmacists, hospitals and physicians.

In this way, STAT notes, it is easier to for a trade association to testify for the industry rather than singling out one drugmaker when in reality, a number of them continue to hike up prices.

Additionally, Republicans and Democrats alike are aware Congress has not yet pinpointed a politically viable solution for addressing issues with drug prices.

"You could have an oversight hearing just to surface the problem, but what is the solution that Congress is prepared to go with?" Mr. Rother asked. "What is the legislation that they're willing to take seriously that hearings might actually support?"

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