WASHINGTON– Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, and several other House Democrats launched a new task force on Wednesday to combat what they said is the inflation of prescription drug prices by pharmaceutical companies.
Earlier this year, the cost of pharmaceutical drugs grabbed national attention when Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli increased the price of Daraprim, a drug used to treat infections in patients with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and pregnant women. The drug was previously $13.50 per tablet and Shkreli raised it to $750 per tablet.
“We have no choice but to deal with this,” Cummings said. “We need action, we need action right now.”
There have been several other instances of drug price inflation, including Valeant Pharmaceuticals increasing the price of Isuprel, a drug that treats abnormal heart rhythm, by 525 percent. The members of this new task force said they are committed to investigating that and other cases.
Last week, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a new study that showed 77 percent of Americans said that the high prices of prescription drugs were their number-one healthcare concern. This statistic was brought up multiple times by several task-force members at Wednesday’s press conference.
Cummings argued that Congress needs to act because when patients cannot afford the medications they need, “they suffer, and in some instances, the die.”
“It’s really beyond unfair that taxpayers who help to fund drug development find themselves unable to afford the cost of treatment,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill, a task force member.
Schakowsky called for pharmaceutical companies to be transparent if they are going to be charging high prices for their drugs and claiming it is to cover the cost of research.
Cummings urged Republicans to step up and help reduce prescription drug prices because “this is an American issue.” He also said that if Republicans refuse to help, they should “get out of our way, and let us do it so that we can protect all our constituents.”
The members of the task force outlined that their goals are to bring more awareness to policy makers, encourage the administration to act, shame the drug companies into lowering their prices, and gather more information and data about these price increases.
Also on Wednesday, the Democrats on the House Committee for Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter to Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asking the panel to host a meeting on Nov. 17 to hear from Shkreli and Valeant CEO J. Michael Pearson, both of whom have not provided any subpoenaed documents to Congress.
This is the second letter the committee’s Democrats have sent to Chaffetz, according to a press release from Cummings’ office. The first, sent in September, received no response from Chaffetz.
“Your silence on this issue is troubling for several reasons,” Wednesday’s letter said. “It creates the appearance that you do not take seriously a request from nearly half of the Members of this Committee. It also contradicts the Committee’s oversight plan, which was adopted unanimously earlier this year. But worst of all, it suggests that you believe this issue is not worth the Committee’s time.”
“Even if you have no interest in investigating these abuses on behalf of your own constituents, we ask that you not block us from investigating them on behalf of ours,” the letter stated.
Chaffetz did not respond to a request for comment on this letter.
The Senate has also recently set up an investigation panel for this issue.
“I’m telling you we don’t have the right to make silent. We will deal with this issue until we get it resolved, because the (lives) of Americans depend upon it,” Cummings said.