Senators tell pharma CEOs to get control of drug prices

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WASHINGTON Senators are urging top pharmaceutical executives to help Congress take action against the industry's worst actors who hike prices on once-cheap drugs.

Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island says the drug industry's reputation has been tarnished by a handful of companies that monopolize decades-old drugs and hike their prices.

Whitehouse told pharmaceutical executives: "turn off your lawyers and lobbyists when we try to solve that problem."

CEOs from seven of the largest drugmakers, including Pfizer, Merck and AbbVie, are testifying before the Senate Finance Committee. The hearing marks the first time the industry's top CEOs have been called to account for how they price their medicines.

Industry executives say quick fixes to lower drug prices could jeopardize future medical breakthroughs.

Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier warns that "outrageous solutions" to drug costs could sacrifice industry innovation. It's a longstanding industry argument used to defend prices on everything from high-tech cancer drugs to diabetes medicines.

Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt says using government "price controls" would not be enough to make medicines affordable for patients.

Pharmaceutical companies often launch their drugs with high initial prices, which usually increase every year. Drugmakers can generally charge as much as the market will bear because the U.S. government doesn't regulate medicine prices.

President Donald Trump and Democrats have promised to bring prices down.

Ranking Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon says the pharmaceutical industry treats patients like "unlocked ATMs full of cash to be extracted."

The hearing marks the first time lawmakers have called top industry executives to account for rising prices that are squeezing Americans.