Senator Sanders Shows Flames, But Seeks Humble Goals, In First Drugs Hearing As Medical Speaker
Senator Bernie Sanders, a nationally known critic of big business in general and the pharmaceutical industry in particular, made a remarkable statement Wednesday about what at first glance seems like a powerful new phase. from which to advance his agenda: the chairmanship of the Senate health committee.
But the hearing in which Sanders criticized a billionaire pharmaceutical executive for raising the price of a covid-19 vaccine illustrates the challenges facing the independent state of Vermont.
Despite its official name the Health, Education, Work and Pensions (HELP) Committee, who chair the panel Sanders has little power over drug prices. In the Senate, much of that leverage rests with the Finance Committee, which oversees Medicaid, Medicare and Obamacare.
In terms of drug prices, the platform Sanders dictates is essentially a bully podium. So Sanders was left to bully his way to his results. And while some Republicans on the committee sympathized with his complaints, others raged with his approach.
At the end of the hearing, seemingly acknowledging the limits of his power, the former presidential candidate pleaded with Moderna chief executive Stéphane Bancel to make relatively modest concessions on vaccine prices.
The CEO makes no promises. Then again, podium statements can lead to corporate action, even if delayed and informal; In the weeks following President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address calling for cheaper insulin, insulin manufacturing companies slashed prices sharply.
Sanders began Wednesday’s hearing with his usual flame and brimstone.
“Across this country, people are getting sicker, and in some cases dying, because they can’t afford expensive prescription drugs, while companies earn money. huge profits and executives become billionaires,” Sanders declared thunderously.
Bancel won his place on the witness chair with federal support. Moderna, which was founded in 2010 and hadn’t brought the drug to market before the pandemic, has received billions of dollars in government funds for research, purchase warranties, and expert advice to help with development and production. successful covid vaccine. The reward was handsome. As of March 8, Bancel held $3 billion in Moderna stock. He also holds the option to buy millions more shares.
Research and government support are the foundation for many expensive drugs and vaccines in use today. But Bancel made itself the perfect shield for Sanders when he announced in January that Moderna plans to raise the price of their latest covid vaccine from about $26 to $110 — or at most. 130 dollars.
Declare greed, Sanders explains his dream of a system in which the government fully funds drug development – and in return controls drug prices. “Is there another model out there where, when a lifesaving drug is created, it will be accessible to everyone who needs it?” he asks. “What did I miss when I thought it was cruel to produce a drug that people couldn’t afford?”
Sanders’ public moralization and scathing attacks on big business make him an outsider in the Senate, even within his own party. However, distaste for soaring drug prices spread across the aisle. On the HELP Committee, at least, Republican politicians seem evenly split between populists and business advocates will address the issue, revealing both the possibilities and pitfalls that Sanders has to face.
Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.) expressed displeasure with the lack of transparency in the healthcare system and called Moderna’s plan to raise prices “absurd”. Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) called it “outrageous.”
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who often supports GOP orthodox views and expresses hatred for the biomedical establishment, claims Bancel is downplaying vaccine-related injuries. to earn money. (Paul overstated those risks.)
Ratings member Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who has pledged to work with Sanders, responded to the president’s opening remarks with both warning and precaution. “I’m not defending wages or profits,” Cassidy said, but he added that he hopes the goal of the hearing is not “to demonize capitalism.”
Only Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a former private equity executive, has sincerely defended Bancel. “If I am an investor, I have to expect that if the product I am supporting works, I will make a lot of money,” he said. “I’ve heard people say, ‘It’s corporate greed.’ Yes, that’s how it works.”
In any case, Sanders’ idealized vision of the pharmaceutical industry is up for debate. Even the Biden administration, which successfully prevented insulin makers from slashing prices sharply in March, Revealed this week it will not use “parade” rights to lower the price of a cancer drug, Xtandi, developed with government-licensed patents.
The right to participate was established in the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which allows companies to license federally funded research and use it to develop drugs. But the courts and federal authorities have repeatedly said that the government can only seize a product if the license holder fails to provide it — not because the price is too high. However, the government did review notice about whether the price can be considered in future follow-up decisions.
Sanders told the hearing he was “deeply disappointed” with Xtandi’s decision. But he’s finally realistic enough to target his bullies to a lower target. At the end of Wednesday’s hearing, Sanders pushed for a minimal gimmick from Moderna. “Have you reconsidered your decision to quadruple the price of vaccines for the US government and its agents?” he asked politely.
Bancel dodges, saying pricing is now more complicated as Moderna faces an uncertain market, having to fill vaccines into separate syringes, and need to sell and distribute vaccines to customers. thousands of pharmacies, where the government used to do all that work. He then left open the possibility of negotiations that could reduce the prices some government agencies or private insurers pay.
For all the stage of such hearings and mixed opinions among senators, the interrogations of figures like Bancel can help inspire change, said Tahir Amin. change in how the National Institutes of Health is “businesses in making its science available to the private sector”. , co-executive director of I-MAK, a nonprofit that advocates for equal access to drugs.
“You have to prosecute it so you can at least record these public comments,” Amin said. Ultimately, he said, this kind of hearing can lead to recognition that, ‘Hey, we need to do this.’”
John McDonough, a Harvard professor who was the HELP Committee’s senior adviser on health reform from 2008 to 2010, said that while the HELP Committee does not have direct jurisdiction over drug prices, Sanders “uses use her position of power and influence to draw attention to the issue in a useful way.”
KHN reporter Rachana Pradhan contributed to this report.
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with Policy Analysis and Exploration, KHN is one of the three main activities in Vietnam KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a funded non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.
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