WASHINGTON, D.C. — Four patient advocates will deliver recorded testimonials before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform this week at hearings investigating drug company pricing practices. The patient advocates will share their experiences with four high-cost drugs made by pharmaceutical corporations under investigation by the committee.
“Millions of patients across America have been the victims of predatory pricing practices by drug corporations that prioritize profit maximization over public health,” said David Mitchell, a cancer patient and the founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs Now. “Today, patients will stand up to those companies and their CEOs, share their stories, and call on members of Congress to enact reforms to stop Big Pharma’s abusive practices.”
Read a copy of David Mitchell’s testimony submitted for the public record here.
Watch the patient advocates’ testimonials at the hearing here starting at 10 AM today. Below are some highlights of their stories:
Ramae Hamrin, Bemidji, MN, multiple myeloma: Ramae, a single mom with two kids in college, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2018. She relies on Revlimid to stay healthy — but faces terrifying financial burdens to afford the very high price of her medication.
“In order to keep taking this drug, I will have to deplete my life savings, cash out my 401(k), and sell my house. When those funds run out, I’m not sure what I will do. Usually, I am a planner — but I cannot plan for this. I am terrified for my future.”
Therese Humphrey Ball, Portage, IN, multiple sclerosis: When Therese was first prescribed Copaxone in 2003, it cost $1,800 a month and wiped out her savings. By 2017, when Therese lost grant assistance, the price of the drug had risen to $6,000 a month, and Therese was forced to forgo the medication.
“When I was not on the drug, I lost short-term memory and experienced other declines in my cognitive functions. This makes it difficult for me to enjoy doing the things I love, like spending time with my grandchildren. My condition shouldn’t progress faster just because drug companies want to make a few extra bucks.”
Kip Burgess, Chicago, IL, psoriatic arthritis: Kip is a father, an avid cyclist, and a psychologist. At 30, he was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. In order to treat the debilitating pain that his condition causes, Kip takes Enbrel, a drug priced at $6,000 a month.
“If my ability to cover those costs goes away, I know I will go back to waking up every morning in pain. These risks cause crippling anxiety on top of the burden of the disease itself. In order to avoid these interruptions in my dosing, I’ve been forced to dip into my savings and jeopardize my financial health to preserve my physical health.”
Heidi Kendall, Missoula, MT, chronic myeloid leukemia: In 2017, Heidi was diagnosed with a blood cancer called chronic myeloid leukemia. To treat it, Heidi was prescribed the drug, Gleevec, which she must take every day for the rest of her life. The price tag is $10,000 per month.
“I’m so grateful for Gleevec. It keeps me alive. But the price tag constantly hangs over my head. Instead of just focusing on my family and my health, I also have to carry around the burden of what would happen if I couldn’t pay for it.”
The four drugs featured in the patient advocates’ testimonials are textbook examples of price gouging and patent abuse.
Revlimid, a cancer drug developed by Celgene and currently sold by Bristol Myers Squibb, costs Medicare more than almost any other drug but is used by fewer than 40,000 patients — less than 0.01 percent of beneficiaries. Celgene and BMS increased the price of the drug nearly 200 percent from 2007 to 2019 and have maintained monopoly pricing power far beyond the period intended by law.
Teva, the company that manufactures the multiple sclerosis medication Copaxone, is under scrutiny for engaging in anti-competitive practices such as product-hopping and shadow pricing that allow it to maintain its pricing power. Since 1997, the company has raised the price of Copaxone by more than 1,000 percent.
Enbrel is a blockbuster drug for Amgen, and the company has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect this revenue source, including leveraging 41 patents to delay generic competition.
Novartis quadrupled the price of its cancer drug, Gleevec, between 2001 and 2015. At the same time, the drug company entered into a collusive agreement with a generic manufacturer to delay less expensive competitors from entering the market.
The House Oversight and Reform committee’s probe into the drug industry was launched in January 2019 under then-chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings’ leadership. Over the past two years, the committee has investigated drug companies’ anti-competitive tactics by reviewing more than 1 million pages of internal documents. In addition to hearing from six current or former executives of top pharmaceutical companies over the next two days, the committee plans to subpoena pharma giant AbbVie for documents relating to its best-selling drugs Humira and Imbruvica.
The hearings begin today and will continue through tomorrow, starting at 10 AM ET each day. Watch the livestream here.