Alec Stone
Alec Stone MA, MPA, ONS Public Affairs Director

The 116th congressional session is well underway. Committee meetings are being held and policy discussions are taking shape all over Capitol Hill. In January 2019, the U.S. House and Senate held separate public hearings on the biggest healthcare issue from the 2018 midterm election: drug pricing.

In both the House and Senate, witnesses provided emotional testimony, featuring tragic stories of family members dying because they could not afford necessary, life-saving prescription medications. It was immediately evident that the drug pricing issue was heading toward a showdown. Not a single pharmaceutical company appeared before either chamber’s committee, inciting backlash from congressional representatives on all sides.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, surprised by the lack of testimony from pharmaceutical companies, noted the committee’s subpoena power if company executives would not willingly enter the discussion. Grassley said, “We will extend the opportunity again in the future, but we will be more insistent the next time.”

Similarly, in the House, Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, began similar hearings—without any drug company representatives—on drug pricing and costs to patients. In early 2019, Cummings sent letters to 12 drug companies alerting them that his committee would be seeking answers to several pointed questions about drug pricing.

Joining the Fray

Late in February 2019, seven of the top pharmaceutical company executives ultimately appeared before the Senate committee to testify and answer questions. Despite some uncomfortable moments, each side took stands on how best to continue to provide safe, quality, affordable prescription medications to Americans without driving them to bankruptcy. It’s a complex question that elected officials and pharmaceutical reps are struggling to answer.

Although the drug pricing discussion is only just starting, it’s a rare bipartisan issue in this uniquely combative time—Congress and the White House are on the same page against soaring prescription costs. ONS will continue to advocate for the safety of patients and their access to quality, affordable cancer care. Discover more information about the drug pricing discussion on the Oncology Nursing Podcast.