Yesterday, we shared news about the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing to investigate concerns about exponential price increases on lifesaving medications. The insights below are courtesy of HRC staff who attended the hearing.
The witness du jour was former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli. You will recall that Turing has been under intense scrutiny since last August when it purchased the anti-parasitic drug Daraprim and overnight jacked up the price by an unconscionable 5000 percent. HRC has made repeated demands since then to have the drug’s price lowered to $13.50 from $750 per pill.
Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) confronted Shkreli about how the elevated price was affecting working families, he responded with smirks looked away. When pressed to answer questions, the former CEO invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. His silence was short lived, once outside the hearing room, Shkreli quickly took to Twitter to express his disdai for members of the committee.
Shkreli saddled Turing’s current Chief Commercial Officer Nancy Retzlaff with the burden of rationalizing Daraprim’s price hike. As expected, Retzlaff obfuscated and instead outlined the company’s efforts to limit a patient’s cost to a $10 copay. When pressed about who picked up the balance of the $750 per pill cost, she nonchalantly noted other payers, like hospitals or insurers. Members of both parties took issue with that representation. Clearly incensed, they pushed back and pointed out that it was everyone in the hearing room, and the American taxpayer bearing the burden through increases in insurance premiums, or hospital services. One member went so far as to say Turing and other drug companies’ pure profit business model was “raping the public.”
Retzlaff attempted to avoid the profit motive driving Turing’s exponential price hike for Daraprim, even indicating the company was in poor financial condition. Chairman Chaffetz (R-UT) challenged Retzlaff on that point, putting up documents on the committee’s large screen monitors for the members and audience to read. They revealed that the company spent upwards of $30,000 for a yacht rental and fireworks show, and provided salary increases between $120,000 and $250,000. Through it all, Retzlaff maintained that Turing’s pricing decision was not unlike those made by other pharmaceutical companies. When asked about having compassion for the pregnant women and people with HIV who required the drug to survive and whether the prices could be justified ethically Retzlaff responded she was comfortable Turing’s decision.
HRC’s letter to the committee was one of several that members referenced to highlight the broad-based outrage over practices employed by Turing and other companies. It is clear that this issue has the attention of Congress and HRC looks forward to working with members to identify long-term solutions that will ensure patients have access to medications that are affordable. In the short-term, our team will keep up the dogged pressure on Turing to lower the price on Daraprim.