Leaping off the public outrage over Turing Pharmaceuticals' sudden decision to hike the price of an old pill by more than $700, politicians are demanding answers from another company, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, that bought two heart drugs and boosted their prices earlier this year.
The Democrats who serve on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform are demanding the company be subpoenaed after failing to sufficiently answer their questions about the massive increase in drug prices. Meanwhile, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has sent a detailed list of 22 questions to the company, probing its simple explanation that it increased the two heart drugs prices because they were "significantly underpriced."
"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,'" the House Democrats wrote.
The House Democrats also requested that the chief executives of Valeant and Turing Pharmaceuticals appear before the oversight committee in hearings next week "since both appear to be engaging in the same model of acquiring potentially life-saving drugs to maximize their own corporate profits," they wrote in a letter to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the committee.
In February, Valeant Pharmaceuticals bought Nitropress, a congestive heart failure and hypertension drug, and Isuprel, a drug used to treat abnormal heart rhythms. The Wall Street Journal revealed that that same day, the company hiked the drug prices -- tripling that of a 2-milliliter vial of Nitropress to $805.61 and jacking up that of a 1-millimeter vial of Isuprel from $215 to $1,346.62.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter earlier in the summer requesting that Valeant explain the reason for the increases. Earlier this month, however, the company rebuffed the request in a letter, saying "the specific documents and information referenced in your letter are highly proprietary and confidential."
Valeant said in a statement that the prices do not affect patients’ access to the drugs, pointing out that they are administered by hospitals. That justification appears to suggest that because the cost of the drugs are buried in much larger hospital bills, of which consumers pay only a fraction if they are insured, their high prices should not be a concern.
“These are drugs that are only used by hospitals -- they are not sold in pharmacies -- in accordance with specific surgical procedures. This means that whenever the protocol calls for use of these drugs, they are used. Patients are never denied these drugs when the protocols call for their use,” a company spokeswoman said.
"As a result of Valeant's refusal, we have no specific information to explain the basis for its exorbitant price increases," the letter from House Democrats states. "In fact, the only changes to these drugs since they were purchased appear to be their labels."
And the prices.