The prices of some common generic drugs have skyrocketed in recent years, but the reasons remain murky, lawmakers said.
The hearing of the Senate subcommittee on primary health and aging on Thursday was called after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings announced they were investigating why some generic drug prices have risen hundreds to thousands of percent -- putting a severe strain on the pocketbooks of many people who rely on generics to reduce costs compared to brand-name drugs.
To combat the rising prices, Sanders said he was introducing a bill that would require generic drug makers to pay a rebate to Medicaid if the cost increases faster than inflation.
The prices of more than 1,200 generic medications increased an average of 448 percent between July 2013 and July 2014, Sanders said during the hearing, citing federal records.
Among the drugs cited by Sanders and Cummings was a popular asthma medication, albuterol sulfate, which increased in price over 40 fold for two tablets, from $11 to $434, between October 2013 and April 2014, according to data from the Healthcare Supply Chain Association, a trade association representing multi-hospital systems, health care provider alliances and purchasing groups, among others.
Another drug, an antibiotic called doxycycline hyclate, rose in price from an average of $20 to $1,849 per bottle between October 2013 and April 2014 -- a more-than 90-fold increase -- according to data from the association.
Other medications for blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart attacks increased in price between three-fold and 40-fold, association data showed.
Sanders and Cummings sent letters in October to various pharmaceutical companies asking for comment about price increases and invited officials from three companies to testify at Thursday's hearing, but none of them agreed to attend, Sanders said.
But in a statement, the CEO of Generic Pharmaceutical Association called the proposed legislation "misguided."
CEO Ralph Neas said the findings were too narrowly focused on just 10 drugs "in a marketplace of more than 12,000 safe, affordable generic medicines."
"In actuality, generic drugs continue to be a resounding success in lowering health care costsand benefiting patients," wrote Neas, who also noted that generic drugs saved consumers $239 billion in 2013 over brand-name drugs, an increase of 14 percent from 2012.