WATCH: Katie Porter, Squad Members Eviscerate Big Pharma CEOs Over ‘Exorbitant’ Drug Prices

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Yves here. On the one hand, it’s gratifying to see Congresscritters shellack drug company execs over predatory pricing. I am sure readers in other countries cannot fathom how we allow this sort of thing to go on, particularly since the US also heavily subsidized Big Pharma via government-funded research. Even small Australia gets way better prices by researching which drugs are most effective for particular ailments, often eschewing minor reformulations that generate big price increases, like a 24 hour release version versus the former “take three times a day” version, and bargaining hard for the ones they buy.

The short answer is that aside from right after the financial crisis, the health care industry has spend the most lobbying dollars in DC.

On the other, Corporate America is shameless, and few CEOs are going to let a hour or even two of being roughed up stand between them and their pay packages. They may even know the classic joke:

Rob a convenience store of $1000 and you get 10 years in prison.

Steal $100 million and you get hauled before Congress and called bad names for 10 minutes.

Only when the public is sufficiently irate that Congress starts talking about price curbs will drug makers start exercising some restraint. But even then, they’ll concede as little as they can.

By Brett Wilkins, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

House Democrats—including three Squad members—tore into pharmaceutical industry chief executives during a Wednesday congressional hearing on Big Pharma profiteering, with Rep. Katie Porter verbally eviscerating one CEO for more than tripling the price of a critical cancer drug.

Wednesday marked the first day of a two-day House Oversight Committee hearing titled “Unsustainable Drug Prices: Testimony from the CEOs.” Bristol Myers Squibb CEO Giovanni Caforio, Teva Pharmaceuticals CEO Kåre Schultz, and former Celgene CEO Mark Alles all endured nearly four hours of grilling over the price of prescription drugs—which are almost always far more expensive in the United States than anywhere else in the world.

Porter (D-Calif.), a former consumer protection attorney, was the most ferocious committee member to address the CEOs. Bringing out her infamous white board, she attacked Celgene’s repeated price hikes for the cancer drug Revlimid, which now costs $763 per dose—in 2005 it cost $215. When Alles attempted to explain that the drug has been approved for new uses, Porter hit back, and hard.

“Did the drug start to work faster? Were there fewer side effects? How did you change the formula or production of Revlimid to justify this price increase?” Porter asked. “To recap here: The drug didn’t get any better, the cancer patients didn’t get any better, you just got better at making money—you just refined your skills at price gouging.”

Porter has built a reputation for speaking tough truth to power, on issues ranging from defending access to crucial public benefits, to challenging mega-bank CEOs on income inequality, to exposing the pernicious influence of dark money in politics.

Toward the end of Wednesday’s nearly four-hour session, three of the four members of the so-called Squad—Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—slammed the CEOs over what Ocasio-Cortez called the “exorbitant cost” of life-saving medications.

Armed with a chart showing the cost of 40 milligrams of Teva’s multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone is more than five times as high in the U.S. as in Britain, Ocasio-Cortez refuted an assertion by Schultz that medications cost more in the United States because American patients have “very broad, and very early access” to new drugs.

Citing Teva’s own internal documents, Ocasio-Cortez showed the company was forced to lower prices by European governments—which unlike the U.S. have instituted spending controls—even as it raised prices for American patients.

Pressley asserted that “the lack of access to affordable life-saving medicine is an injustice [that] represents an act of economic violence and an attack on the basic principle that healthcare is a fundamental human right,” while Tlaib ripped Schultz for using charitable donations like “a side hustle.”

“Your pharmaceutical company makes these so-called charitable donations so you look like you give a shit about sick people,” said Tlaib. “But in reality these are just another scheme by your corporation to make money off of sick people.”

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  1. Jim

    Pretty useless, just like those clips of Warren yelling at bankers that liberals love to swoon over. These people will go back home and sleep on their beds made out of cash. This country can’t collapse fast enough.

    1. rjs

      “As Chief Executive Officer at CELGENE CORP, Mark J. Alles made $13,115,985 in total compensation.”

      yeah, for $13 million, i’ll put up with being eviscerated by Katie Porter once a year too..

  2. Yik Wong

    Based on reports at Greyzone and BAR on AOC and other squad members (excludes Porter) I see this as performative political kabuki, partly to play to base, partly to line up a shakedown later. Hope I’m wrong, but Albert Einstein had a point.

    1. Yik Wong

      AOC… “exorbitant cost” of life-saving medications. This kind of empty talk. It’s not exorbitant costs, it’s extortion, but she can’t bring herself to say it because then she’d be obligated to do something real. “Exorbitant cost” on the other hand is just the American way.

      1. Ghost in the Machine

        I think it is more like a protection racket. “It would be a shame if something terrible were to happen to your child when we have this life saving treatment”..,etc.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      I disagree. Performative would be griping about unknown personalities. This is a sea change. They’ve named a name of someone who lives in a community and pointed out his community.

      1. Yik Wong

        You mean like Howard Hughes, Robert DuPont, or J.P. Morgan were named and pointed out by Congress, and then went on to greater fortune and philanthropic heroes?

        I meant performative as in a word or act that changes the the state of affairs, such as legal status. The end result of the Kabuki is a public demonstration of the chairman’s fitness for purpose, ie: maximizing profit above all other. He’ll (assumed pronoun) be getting even more board seats now. Worse, they given his actions the sheen of legality, if questionably ethics by not calling for prosecution. Thus giving every Federal Prosecutor who felt any inkling of bringing prosecution sufficient cover to do nothing, and collect their ticket to the revolving door.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          Those guys are fairly far removed. Its like griping about Bill Gates. The guy in the video isn’t. He is fairly small time but representative of a fairly large group who are as every bit as parasitical but more or less accessible. Porter just pointed out the pain and suffering experienced by loved ones was so a fairly well off guy could make a few extra bucks.

          1. Yik Wong

            per above (excludes Porter) , but I take your point, get the small fish, not the big ones.

            Hence it’s even more valuable in terms of payback for the gang to give them cover, as prosecutors are more likely to go after them/. I’d have to see Porters record of action before I’d comment on her effectiveness.

  3. TomDority

    Who ever is elected this round – and because everybody will be so burnt out – the congress critters who should be doing the peoples work will probably think they can duck and cover and continue to abdicate their responsibilities to their constituents…… well, unfoutunatly just about everybody who so burned-out will need to continue, and redouble efforts, to wrest back control and levers of our democracy from those who have perverted it – – above Pharma turds being yet another example of the perverters.

  4. allan

    A point that needs to be emphasized is that Porter represents a DCCC-designated `front line’ district,
    which actually leans slightly toward the GOP. But in the two years since she was took it from the GOP in 2018,
    Porter has made herself electorally untouchable by routinely doing stuff like this.

    Contrast that with the pusillanimous, corporate-friendly `centrism’ of most other DCCC Frontliners,
    like Anthony Brindisi (NY-22), Conor Lamb (PA-17), Elaine Luria (VA-02), Max Rose (NY-11),
    or Abigail Spanberger (VA-07).

  5. Off The Street

    Shamelessness didn’t arise overnight. Here are some of the contributing factors that aid and abet in its rise:
    Powell Memo – hey, guys, open season
    Citizens United – pay up to get the results you want
    Gerrymandering – just keep those lobbyist, er, constituent checks coming
    et cetera

    There is an endless list of BS that leads to a perverse Nash Equilibrium of sorts in Congress, where you can’t make one Critter more shameless without making the others more shameless.
    At least Katie Porter is speaking out. Why are the Sacklers, of Purdue Pharmaceuticals and Oxycontin fame, for example, still walking free and retaining their blood-drenched money?

    Big Pharma Delenda Est

  6. orlbucfan

    Isn’t Katie Porter’s district in Orange County, CA? That area has been GOP heaven for decades. She won election and re-election by telling her constituents what she would do for them. She has done so. How refreshing. I hope it becomes contagious and spreads nationwide. The DCCC? What’s that?

  7. Dirk77

    I disagree with Yves and every commentator here so far. I think an extreme interpretation of Tom Ferguson’s observation is required from now on. By that I mean a view that a politician represents their donors – and only their donors – in direct proportion to how much they contributed to the politician’s campaign. There is no thing as “the people’s will” anymore (if there ever was) unless they are the donors themselves. I realize this is not sufficient, but it is necessary. So you can’t expect Congress to start passing laws to bring costs down unless the politicians actually serve you, which they don’t with some exceptions. After watching events this year, can you really conclude otherwise?

  8. doug

    not ‘useless’ to Porter. It will be great footage for campaign.
    But Yes, useless in terms of lowering any drug price, or in shaming any corporate pie hole.

    Warren was a good recent example, but that Kabuki theatre has been going on longer than any of us have been alive.

  9. Edward

    I don’t think congress needed these hearings to learn that there is price gouging by big pharma. They can either do something about it or not. I suppose the hearings had value for raising the issue. This is more out of control white collar crime made possible by our bribery-fueled political system. Can these companies be charged with homicide if their gouging deprives the sick of life saving medicine?

    Some years ago ex-Governor Buddy Romer tried to run for president on a platform of campaign finance reform. His campaign was buried by the press like Ron Paul’s. The press buries the upstarts. The semi-anti-war Dean was buried over the “Shout”.

  10. Otis B Driftwood

    Ok, now where is the legislation establishing criminal liability?

    Porter is a legislator, right?

  11. CarlH

    I see that Elizabeth’s Warren’s feckless theatrical antics are catching on. Yea! More circuses. I really do not like being this cynical, but that is where I am at this point.

    1. Yik Wong

      Warren was effective as a bureaucrat at the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Now to show my full cynicism, I think she worked so hard to be effective in part hoping to be kicked upstairs. To be sure, she struck a bargain with the Obama admin to sit on her hands as a senator while Barry and Hillary’s pets took the CFPB apart on behalf of their largest donors.

  12. d

    not sure whats the point if the D’s do some thing and pass a bill in the house, the senate will do nothing ? wont even bring it up for a vote. seems the senate has made them selves useless. except for confirming judges, that they can do

  13. Synoia

    Time to use that Jail beneath the Congress building.

    A couple of months there for a CEO or two would sent a clear message.

  14. rjs

    off topic, but why ain’t the congress critters wearing masks in a room full of people? did they get immunity?

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