Viewpoint: It's time for pharma to have its 'tobacco moment'

Twenty-five years ago, top executives from the nation's seven largest tobacco companies were brought before Congress to answer long-standing questions about the dangers of cigarettes. The hearing ultimately brought sweeping changes to the tobacco industry and drove smoking rates to the lowest level in decades.

Now, it's time for the pharma industry to face Congress and have that same pivotal moment, The New York Times editorial board wrote in an opinion piece Feb. 24.

Seven pharmaceutical executives are set to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 26. There are many similarities between the two hearings, but one of importance is the environment in which they will testify. Like their predecessors in the tobacco industry, drugmakers will testify at a time of near-universal, bipartisan anger over drug costs and industry tactics.

The near-universal anger is warranted, the editorial board argues, because "drug prices are soaring in a way that defies reason."

For example, an insulin vial that cost about $200 a decade ago, now costs patients $1,500, even though the drug is about 100 years old. Actimmune, a drug that treats malignant osteopetrosis, costs $350 in Britain, but $26,000 in the U.S.

While the industry has its reasons for why prices rise at sharp rates, many have trouble reconciling those reasons given Big Pharma's generous profits.

Overall, the Feb. 26 hearing  will place a spotlight on the pharmaceutical industry just like the hearing 25 years ago spotlighted tobacco execs, and "one can only hope for a similarly pivotal moment for prescription drug prices," the board wrote.

Learn more about the hearing here.

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