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

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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 called 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/strong>

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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