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Week ahead: Lawmakers go on offense over drug prices

Embattled pharmaceutical executives like Martin Shkreli will get their first chance to defend themselves during a high-profile hearing by the House Oversight Committee next week.

Weeks of public shaming of Big Pharma will come to a head on Thursday, where lawmakers are expected to focus on claims of profiteering by two pharmaceutical companies — Valeant and Turing.

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The most-anticipated witness is Martin Shkreli, the 32-year-old entrepreneur who has become the poster child for price gouging, even falling under attack from fellow pharmaceutical companies. The industry’s trade association, PhRMA, has said repeatedly he is not a member.

But Shkreli’s status for next week remains unclear: He was recently arrested for unrelated charges of securities fraud and stepped down as CEO of his company. While a federal judge gave him permission to travel to Washington, D.C., for the hearing, his lawyer has said Shkreli intends to invoke his right against self-incrimination to avoid participating in the hearing

A spokeswoman for Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzOversight panel demands answers on Pentagon waste report Chaffetz: Congress will ‘absolutely’ look at 5B in waste at Pentagon Clinton opponents vow to continue their pursuit MORE (R-Utah) said the committee expects him to cooperate with their subpoena.

Both Turing and Valeant pharmaceuticals have been heavily criticized for their practice of buying up decades-old drugs and then significantly raising the price, sometimes overnight.  

The committee has said it will focus on the “timely review and approval” of generic drugs — an issue that is likely to spark a partisan fight, with Oversight’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), taking a fierce stance on the issue.

Besides Shkreli and the current leaders of Turing and Valeant, the committee will also hear from Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s drug development arm.

Also coming up is the end of ObamaCare’s third enrollment season — the final sign-up season to be overseen by the Obama administration. The final deadline is Sunday, Jan. 31, and a top ObamaCare administration reiterated Thursday that he would not be extending the deadline like he did last year.

Those who do not purchase coverage by Sunday will face fines of at least $695, nearly double the amount of last year's penalty. 

The numbers for December and January have been strong, with more than 11.6 million people signed up nationally. 

But the final stretch of sign-ups will be crucial to ease still-present concerns within the insurance industry that the marketplace isn’t stabilizing quickly enough. One insurance giant, Anthem, already warned this week that it will likely raise premiums in 2017, citing poorer-than-expected figures.

The coming week will also bring the Iowa caucuses, the first-in-the-nation presidential primary contest, where the pharmaceutical industry has been taking a beating from both parties. 

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