Health Care

Sanders to grill Moderna CEO over proposed COVID vaccine price hike

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) plans to question the CEO of Moderna during a hearing next month about the company’s plans to quadruple the price of its COVID-19 vaccine.

Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, on Wednesday called Moderna the “poster child” for corporate greed and high drug prices.

As chairman, Sanders has said he wants to focus on the cost of prescription drugs and highlight drug company profiteering, among other priorities.

CEO Stéphane Bancel, who will appear on March 22, told the Wall Street Journal last month that Moderna is planning to charge as much as $130 per dose once the government’s supply runs out and the vaccine becomes available on the private market.

Sanders told reporters the federal government spent nearly $2 billion of taxpayer money to subsidize the development of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, which helped Bancel become a billionaire. He is estimated to be worth more than $5 billion.

The two co-founders of Moderna are now worth $2 billion each, Sanders said. 

“Our demand is to Moderna, you received huge help from the federal government and the taxpayers of this country. You made billions of dollars in personal wealth. Do not quadruple the prices for this vaccine,” the Vermont senator said. 

The hearing comes after Sanders wrote a letter to Bancel last month, calling the price hike “unacceptable corporate greed.”

The price range would match what competitor Pfizer said it is considering charging, though both are far more than what the federal government pays. However, Pfizer did not receive federal support for the development of its vaccine.

Moderna’s updated booster shots currently cost about $26 per dose, and the federal government distributes the shots for free.

Vaccines will still be free to people with private insurance once the federal supply runs out, though the cost will likely be reflected in premiums. Even with insurance, patients will likely see costs if they go to an out-of-network provider. 

Sanders also argued that the higher vaccine price for insurers — as well as government-run Medicare and Medicaid — would further increase medical costs.

On Wednesday, Moderna issued a brief statement saying it “remains committed” to ensuring that people in the United States will have access to its COVID-19 vaccines regardless of insurance coverage.

“For uninsured or underinsured people, Moderna’s patient assistance program will provide COVID-19 vaccines at no cost,” the company said, without explaining how the program would work.

A report created by HELP Committee’s Democratic staff listed the pay and “golden parachutes” of 10 drug company CEOs including Moderna, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, AbbVie and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

“From both a moral and economic perspective, the United States Congress and the Administration has a responsibility to rein in the greed of these pharmaceutical pandemic profiteers. This is an issue that the Senate HELP Committee will be addressing,” the report noted. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders COVID-19 COVID-19 vaccine drug prices Moderna vaccine Stéphane Bancel

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