WASHINGTON — Rep. Elijah Cummings, D- Baltimore, charged Thursday that huge drug-price increases amounted to “blood money” that hurt vulnerable patients and caused hospital budgets to soar.
Cummings grilled pharmaceutical representatives about the drug-price hikes at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The congressman pressed both Nancy Retzlaff, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, and Howard B. Schiller, interim CEO of Valeant Pharmaceuticals,about how their companies’ actions affected his district, including The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
“The Johns Hopkins Hospital, which is smack dab right in the middle of my district…their hospital budget was significantly impacted by Marathon’s price increases… your price increases stretched Hopkins’ pharmacy budget even further,” Cummings said. “Do you know how much that hurts Hopkins?”
Cummings argued that Turing, the pharmaceutical company that raised prices by 5,000 percent, was more interested in investing in a public relations campaign rather than providing affordable solutions to patients.
“So instead you all spent all of your time strategizing about how to hide your price increase behind positive PR and coming up with stupid jokes while people were sitting there trying to figure out how they were going to survive,” Cummings said.
“No, that is not true,” Retzlaff responded. She said that the company had offered several solutions to hospitals in November, including discounts up to 50 percent and smaller pill bottles.
“I’ve said it before.. a lot of this is about blood money….I want people watching this to know that they are not being ripped off,” Cummings said.
Cummings directly asked Schiller if Valeant planned to make changes to its pricing and policies.
“We have made mistakes… and we grew very quickly,” Schiller responded. “We are going to change. We are going to be a responsible corporate citizen and part of the healthcare community.”
Cummings also criticized the price increases for their impact on one of the largest HIV-positive communities in the country.
“I’m concerned about this because in the district that I live in, the zip code has one of the worst HIV situations in the world…You’re raising the price…So did anyone at Turing stop and think about the effect that this price increase would have on such a vulnerable community?” Cummings said.
The meeting was held to find the reasoning behind the recent dramatic drug price increases and to propose solutions to alleviate the cost on patients and hospitals.