(Bloomberg) — Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio joined the debate over U.S. drug prices, saying in a speech last week that some practices by the industry amounted to “pure profiteering.”
Criticism of the drug industry has largely been the domain of Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who have repeatedly called for new regulations to control the high cost of medicine. Rubio’s comments turn criticism of the industry bipartisan.
“These companies decide, ‘We can get away with charging it, and so we do,”’ Rubio said at a campaign event in Portsmouth, N.H., on Oct. 14. He was referring to companies that raise the price of drugs to make up for falling demand.
“It’s a new issue that’s emerged over the last few years but it’s a significant one, because it threatens to bankrupt our system,” Rubio said after being asked about drug prices by an audience member. “It’s a complex issue but it’s one we have to confront.”
Price increases are common in the industry, Bloomberg reported earlier this month. Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE), the nation’s biggest drugmaker, has raised prices on 133 of its brand-name products in the U.S. this year, according to research from UBS, more than three-quarters of which added up to hikes of 10 percent or more. It’s not alone. Rival Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK) raised the price of 38 drugs, about a quarter of which resulted in increases of 10 percent or more. Pfizer sells more than 600 drugs globally while Merck has more than 200 worldwide, including almost 100 in the U.S.
Pfizer has said that it has programs to help patients afford drugs, and that a variety of factors affect drug pricing. Merck declined to comment at the time.
Rubio spokesman Alex Conant qualified the senator’s comments in an e-mail to Bloomberg. “Marco was obviously talking about specific companies who are gouging consumers,” he said. “America’s pharmaceutical industry saves countless lives but it’s no secret that there are some bad actors who put profits ahead of patients.”