Katie Porter brings her whiteboard to accuse pharma CEO of inflating drug prices

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) went viral on social media after she brought back her signature whiteboard during a Tuesday committee hearing in which she grilled drugmaker AbbVie’s CEO on allegations that the company has inflated drug prices. 

During the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, Porter pressed AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez to confirm the company spends far less on research and development in comparison to stocks and dividends to increase the earnings of shareholders. 

“Mr. Gonzalez, how much did AbbVie spend on litigation and settlements from 2013 to 2018?” the Democratic congresswoman asked. 

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“I don’t have that number offhand,” the CEO replied through video conference, but added, “We’d be happy to give it to you.” 

“OK, $1.6 billion,” Porter responded, putting paper circles on her whiteboard to compared the sizes of different areas of spending by the drug manufacturer, adding that the company spent $2.45 billion on "research and development.” 

Gonzalez then confirmed that AbbVie spends $4.71 billion on “marketing and advertising.” 

The CEO said the company from 2013 to 2018 spent $60 million a year on executive compensation, to which Porter responded, “Try $334 [million] on for size.” 

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Porter then asked, “How much did AbbVie spend on stock buybacks and dividends to enrich your shareholders from 2013 to 2018?”

While Gonzalez said “our stock buybacks” would be about $13 billion, he added that he could not confirm the specific amount spent on distributions of profits to shareholders.

Porter then responded, “$50 billion,” while revealing a large circle that took up the majority of the whiteboard. 

“So, Mr. Gonzalez, you’re spending all this money to make sure you make money rather than spending money to invest in, develop drugs and help patients with affordable, life-saving drugs,” Porter argued. 

She went on to say, “You lie to patients when you charge them twice as much for an unimproved drug and then you lie to policymakers when you tell us that R&D justifies those price increases.” 

“The Big Pharma fairy tale is one of groundbreaking R&D that justifies astronomical prices,” Porter continued. “But the Pharma reality is that you spend most of your company’s money making money for yourself and your shareholders.” 

“And the fact that you’re not honest about this with patients and with policymakers, that you’re feeding us lies that we must pay astronomical prices to get ‘innovative treatments’ is false,” Porter added, using a hand gesture to indicate the use of quotation marks. 

“The American people, the patients, deserve so much better,” the lawmaker argued before yielding her time. 

Porter has previously gone viral for using her whiteboard to make her case on the costs of drugs set by pharmaceutical companies, including during questioning of former Celgene CEO Mark Alles in a September 2020 hearing over the top executive’s compensation and the spike in the cost for cancer drug Revlimid. 

The Oversight and Reform Committee during Tuesday’s hearing announced a call from House Democrats for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate AbbVie for its pricing of Humira, the best-selling drug in the U.S. and internationally, which treats rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.