Prescription drug prices have been rising over the past few years.
Prescription drug prices have been rising over the past few years. - 
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Both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee have said they’ll demand answers about the perennial issue of high drug prices from pharma executives.  

Lawmakers have been pressing for those answers for at least 60 years. According to Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a physician and Harvard professor who recently testified before a House committee on the issue, high drug prices are getting renewed attention because, "a lot of patients may have insurance plans that expose patients to more of a fraction of the pharmaceutical costs due to cost sharing and deductible plans."

Drug prices are also increasing at nearly ten times the rate of inflation, according to a report by another Senate committee. One of the first questions lawmakers are likely to ask the executives is: why?

The answer is complicated, said Rachel Sachs, who researches drug prices at Washington University in St. Louis. "It's hard for providers and patients and policymakers to know who is causing the real problems," she said. 

Sachs said insurers and retailers can negotiate drug prices. She expects to hear executives shift the blame to them.  "And to argue that high prices are necessary to sustain the innovative new drugs that they're providing," Sachs said.

She also expects pharma executives to use that argument to defend their aggressive marketing campaigns and efforts to delay the introduction of generic drugs.

 

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Follow Erika Beras at @Erika_Beras