The recent wave of increases in the cost of prescription drugs is straining hospital budgets and squeezing patients, hospital and other health care witnesses today told the Senate Aging Committee at a hearing on “sudden price hikes” in off-patent drugs. Erin Fox, the University of Utah Health Care’s director of drug information, pointed to tactics like Valeant’s purchase earlier this year of the rights to a pair of life-saving heart medications, isoproterenol and nitroprusside. Following the acquisition, nitroprusside’s price rose from $215 to about $650, and isoproterenol went from $440 to about $2,700, she said. “If we continued to purchase the same amount of each drug, it would cost our organization just over $1.6 million more for isoproterenol and approximately $290,000 more for nitroprusside compared to what we paid the previous year,” Fox told the committee. When patients have limited access to prescription drugs due to high prices, “they often end up in the hospital with a worsening medical condition,” noted Gerard Anderson, a professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University. He said the pharmaceutical industry needs more transparency in pricing and more competition through measures that could include restricting new mergers or acquisitions. Consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry is “having an adverse impact on access and allowing generic companies to raise prices,” he said.