Top executives from seven major pharmaceutical companies have appeared before the US Finance Committee to testify about the high prices of prescription drugs in the country.

Earlier this month, senate chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking member Ron Wyden sent invitations to AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AbbVie and Merck for the hearing.

The hearing on 26 February follows the first held last month, when the majority of companies declined the invite.

During the latest hearing, senators have taken an aggressive stance, saying that patients had to skip their doses over the affordability of prescription medicines.

In the opening statement, Wyden went on to call the pricing practices ‘morally repugnant’.

Wyden added: “It is morally repugnant when ailing patients are forced to choose between filling that next prescription or putting food on the table, because they can’t afford both. It is morally repugnant when patients are forced to skip doses.

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“Drug makers behave as if patients and taxpayers are unlocked ATMs full of cash to be extracted, and their shareholders are the customers they value above all else.”

“Drug makers behave as if patients and taxpayers are unlocked ATMs full of cash to be extracted, and their shareholders are the customers they value above all else.”

According to Reuters, the company executives highlighted their history of developing lifesaving drugs and added that profits made in the US help fund expensive research and development.

Bristol-Myers CEO Giovanni Caforio was quoted as saying: “American research-based companies are leading the next wave of biomedical innovation to help patients whose diseases cannot be adequately treated with today’s medicines. We should work to ensure policies that support and reward these investments.”

Senators started with AbbVie, focusing on its arthritis drug Humira and noted that a portion of CEO Richard Gonzalez’s bonus in 2017 was tied to the drug sales.

By the end of the hearing, nearly all executives said that they would support the reform to end drug rebate system in the industry and push direct discounts to patients across the country.

Amid increasing pressure to lower prescription drug prices in the country, the majority of pharmaceutical companies announced price freezes in 2018.

However, around 30 companies raised the prices of hundreds of drugs on 1 January.