The chief executives of three major pharmaceutical companies defended the prices of their drugs in front of the Senate health committee on Thursday, drawing them further into a confrontation with lawmakers and the Biden administration over the cost of some of the most widely used prescription medications.

Lawmakers, including Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the panel’s chairman, noted that the companies charged more in the United States than in other wealthy countries, accusing them of profiting at the expense of American patients. The pharmaceutical executives — from Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb — conceded that patients in the United States paid too much but said that new medications arrived there faster than anywhere else in the world.

Mr. Sanders, an independent who has made reining in drug prices a signature cause of his late-career years in Congress, acknowledged that the companies had produced lifesaving drugs. But he singled out several widely used medications, including Bristol Myers Squibb’s blood thinner Eliquis, which he noted could be purchased for much less in Canada than in the United States.

“Those drugs mean nothing to anybody who cannot afford it,” Mr. Sanders said, adding that “millions and millions of our people cannot afford the outrageously high cost of prescription drugs in this country.”

The three executives who testified — Joaquin Duato of Johnson & Johnson, Robert M. Davis of Merck and Christopher Boerner of Bristol Myers Squibb — acknowledged that drug prices were often higher in the United States than in other wealthy countries.


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