Bernie Sanders Calls for Subpoena Over Big Pharma Price Hikes

People are up in arms about pharmaceutical pricing and politicians are starting to take notice.

Bernie Sanders at a town meeting in Arizona

Undeterred by Turing Pharmaceutical’s recent spate of bad publicity and retreat from a 5,000 percent price hike on a life-saving HIV drug, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a Quebec-based firm, is sticking to its price increase for two heart drugs. But after raising the price of Isuprel by 2,500 percent and Nitropress by 1,700 percent, Valeant is facing more than just public outrage—they’ve caught the attention of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), who are investigating the staggering drug price increases.

As CBC News reports, Valeant purchased the drugs from Marathon Pharmaceuticals in February, jacking up the price the same day. On August 14, a full month before Turing’s price hike, Sanders and Cummings sent letters to Valeant and drug manufacturer Hospira, requesting documents and information relating to the drugs’ pricing and manufacture.

On Monday, Sanders and Cummings sent a letter to the House of Representatives committee on oversight and government reform, chaired by Republican Jason Chaffetz (CA), and it’s clear that the two politicians—along with all 18 members of the committee—are committed to battling Big Pharma on this issue.

“Valeant is using precisely the same business model as Martin Shkreli, the 32-year-old former hedge fund manager whose company recently purchased the life-saving drug Daraprim and increased the price from $13.50 to $750 per pill overnight,” Sanders and Cummings write. “...[w]hen asked about its price increases, a Valeant spokeswoman responded: ‘Our duty is to our shareholders and to maximize the value’ of the drugs.”

Pharmaceutical exec Martin Shkreli. Screenshot via Youtube user US Uncut

“We believe it is critical to hold drug companies to account when they engage in ‘a business strategy of buying old neglected drugs and turning them into high-priced special drugs’,” they continue. “For these reasons, in addition to the subpoena, we also request that the Committee invite the CEO of Valeant to testify before the Committee next week along with Mr. Shkreli since both appear to be engaging in the same business model of acquiring potentially life-saving drugs to maximize their own corporate profits.”

Sanders and Cummings are calling for a subpoena because Valeant has refused to furnish Congress with documents relating to the massive price increase of the two heart drugs. This development, along with Hillary Clinton’s attacks on Big Pharma pricing, makes it clear that the regulatory gauntlet has been thrown down.

Predictably, biotech stock prices have dipped. Expect the pro-free market hysteria machine to make this a political talking point. You know, because stock portfolios are more important than lives.

Julian Meehan

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