Lawmakers press AbbVie CEO on increased US prices of two drugs

Lawmakers press AbbVie CEO on increased US prices of two drugs
© Greg Nash

A group of mostly Democratic House lawmakers pressed drugmaker AbbVie’s CEO on Tuesday over the increased prices of anti-inflammatory drug Humira and cancer drug Imbruvica in the U.S. in the years since they first became available.  

AbbVie's Richard Gonzalez faced tough questions from the Oversight and Reform Committee, with Democrats accusing the company of taking advantage of patients and the health care system to charge more for medicine and bring in billions of dollars for revenue and executive bonuses. 

“You haven’t made the drug any better even as you doubled the cost,” Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) said during the hearing. “You’re feeding us lies that we must pay astronomical prices to get innovative products.”

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Ahead of the hearing, the committee reviewed more than 170,000 pages of internal documents spanning 18 years and published a staff report that concluded AbbVie hiked prices for the two drugs in the U.S. while having to reduce prices in other countries. 

“AbbVie’s CEO Mr. Gonzalez sought to cast blame on others for AbbVie’s high prices,” Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn MaloneyDOJ tells former Trump officials they can testify in Jan. 6 investigations: report Overnight Energy: Democrats request interview with Exxon lobbyist after undercover tapes | Biden EPA to reconsider Trump rollback on power plant pollution in 2022 | How climate change and human beings influence wildfires Democrats request interview with Exxon lobbyist after undercover tapes MORE (D-N.Y.) said in her closing remarks. “But the facts showed that AbbVie raised prices on Americans for one simple reason: greed.” 

Gonzalez had pointed to the structure of Medicare, saying Part D patients make up the largest patient group that lacks access to affordable medicine. 

“For these patients, reducing drug prices alone will not alleviate the challenge of access and affordability,” he said in his opening statement. 

But Maloney argued that AbbVie pushed for escalated prices in the U.S. because Medicare does not have the ability to negotiate lower drug prices, while other nations could. She called for the passage of H.R. 3, drug pricing legislation backed by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries On The Money: Biden issues targeted eviction moratorium | GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal 'The Squad' celebrates Biden eviction moratorium MORE (D-Calif.). 

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Several Republicans, however, said H.R. 3 could jeopardize current investment in innovation, giving companies less incentive to research new medicines and make those drugs available in the U.S.

“How can you defend American prices of pharmaceuticals overseas versus the prices on drugs in the nation that you love?” Rep. Clay HigginsGlen (Clay) Clay HigginsHouse GOP stages mask mandate protest Hoyer suggests COVID-19 rules will stay — and might get tougher The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Jan. 6 probe, infrastructure to dominate week MORE (R-La.) asked.

“Your answers to the chair were evasive at best and appear to be obviously written by attorneys,” Higgins said.

Gonzalez responded by saying, “The short answer is outside the United States you have socialized health care systems.”

“That does force the U.S. to pay far more of the innovation costs of our industry,” he added later. “That is a reality.”

The raised prices in question include 27 separate increases to Humira’s cost in the U.S. since it was launched in 2003. Humira, the best-selling drug in the U.S. and the world, now costs $2,984 per syringe in the country — a 470 percent increase. 

In 2015, a 40 milligram syringe of Humira, used for arthritis and other inflammatory diseases, cost $1,000 more in the U.S. than in Canada, the U.K., Germany, Japan and South Korea, the committee said in its report. 

AbbVie and its partner Janssen Biotech have boosted the price of Imbruvica nine times since its release in 2013, reaching $181,529 — an 82 percent increase.

On Tuesday, Maloney, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBiden backs effort to include immigration in budget package Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Britney Spears's new attorney files motion to remove her dad as conservator MORE (D-N.Y.) and a Judiciary Antitrust subcommittee Chairman David CicillineDavid CicillineMcCarthy jokes it'll be hard not to 'hit' Pelosi with gavel if he is Speaker Lobbying world Progressive fighting turns personal on internal call over antitrust bills MORE (D-R.I.) called on the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into AbbVie to see if it violated the law by delaying competition against Humira.

The Oversight Committee launched its investigation into drug prices in 2019 under late Chair Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee Five big questions about the Jan. 6 select committee MORE (D-Md.) and threatened to subpoena AbbVie for documents related to Humira and Imbruvica last year, citing the company’s “unwillingness to comply voluntarily.”