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HHS ready to battle drug companies for lower prices in court: Sec. Becerra

·Senior Reporter
·3 min read
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Drug prices are once again in focus on Capitol Hill as lawmakers renew their push for pricing reform. And U.S. Health and Human Services Department Sec. Xavier Becerra has joined in on the effort. 

"We just have to all agree that this isn't working. Countries around the world are providing medicine to their people for far less than we do," Becerra told Yahoo Finance in an exclusive interview Monday, adding that often those same drugs are made in the U.S.

Becerra made an appearance alongside U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ-06) and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in New Jersey Monday at a multi-city event to discuss lower drug costs.

"We want the industry to be here, in America." Becerra said. That includes making, inventing, and shipping drugs from the U.S. It's why President Joe Biden's plan acknowledges the need to reward innovation, Becerra said.

Last week, Biden addressed the country and shared his Build Back Better plan that includes strategies to lower drug prices.

"For years, the price of many drugs has dramatically outpaced inflation," Biden said. "Too many companies don't use the profit nearly enough to innovate or research. Too many companies use it to buy back their own stock, inflate their worth, drive up CEO salaries and compensation, and find ways to box out the competition," he said.

FILE - In this June 10, 2021, file photo Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on President Joe Biden's budget request, at the Capitol in Washington. The federal Health and Human Services Department is requiring employees who provide care or services for patients to get their COVID-19 shots, officials announced Thursday, Aug. 12. The order from Becerra will affect more than 25,000 clinicians, researchers, contractors, trainees and volunteers with the National Institutes of Health, the Indian Health Service, and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
FILE - In this June 10, 2021, file photo Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on President Joe Biden's budget request, at the Capitol in Washington. The federal Health and Human Services Department is requiring employees who provide care or services for patients to get their COVID-19 shots, officials announced Thursday, Aug. 12. The order from Becerra will affect more than 25,000 clinicians, researchers, contractors, trainees and volunteers with the National Institutes of Health, the Indian Health Service, and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Biden's plan focuses on the ability of Medicare to negotiate prices, as well as the need to incentivize lower prices while also being sensitive to the need to reward innovation.

He highlighted the need to ensure drug companies can make back the cost of research and development and can price for profit, but to make sure costs aren't too expensive for the majority of families in the U.S.

"What we are proposing is ... negotiate with the company, based on a fair price. One that reflects the cost of the research and development, and the need for providing for a significant profit, but that's still affordable for consumers," Biden said.

But if it still ends up being too expensive, he added, society should take on that burden, just as it has with grant funding and partnerships through the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"I'm not criticizing companies that are not willing to spend billions of dollars on certain projects to research. I get it. But if they're not, we should," Biden said.

Becerra said as much Monday, noting that if the HHS policies upset the drug industry, the federal government is ready to take the matter to court.

"I don't want to see us in court, but we are going to do everything we have to do — dotting those 'I's, crossing those 't's— so that if someone wants to take us on in court, we'll be ready," Becerra said.

It's not the first option for the former attorney general of California. 

"I went to court only when I had to as AG. Now I'm secretary, [and] I absolutely want to avoid court. Because what court simply means is delays for consumers in getting the best price for the best product," he said.

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