Sanders plans to subpoena Merck, J&J CEOs on drug pricing

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), announced Thursday he will be holding a vote to issue subpoenas to the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Merck for testimonies on drug pricing after they refused requests to appear before the Senate panel.

The subpoenas for Johnson & Johnson CEO Joaquin Duato and Merck CEO Robert Davis would have them “provide testimony about why their companies charge substantially higher prices for medicine in the U.S. compared to other countries,” according to the announcement.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Merck have refused an invitation by a majority of members on the HELP Committee to appear before Congress about the outrageously high price of prescription drugs,” Sanders said.

Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) CEO Chris Boerner and one other unnamed pharmaceutical CEO have agreed to testify before the HELP Committee.

The Senate chair noted that all three companies manufacture some of the most expensive drugs sold in the U.S., including the diabetes medication Januvia from Merck, the blood cancer drug Imbruvica from Johnson & Johnson and the blood thinner sold as Eliquis from BMS.

When reached for comment, Johnson & Johnson said in a statement: “Johnson & Johnson has deep respect for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions’ work, and we have continued to engage with the Committee on its proposed prescription drug hearing. As part of this engagement, we have expressed our concerns with the hearing as it is currently planned.”

In a letter sent to the HELP Committee last week in response to the request for Davis to testify, Merck Executive Vice President Jennifer Zachary said the company was prepared to aid the panel.

“That said, the decision to invite only the three companies you have selected to testify at a January 25 hearing raises serious questions about whether the hearing is being planned in service of a valid legislative purpose and consistent with the First Amendment,” Zachary wrote

As all three companies are currently suing to halt Medicare Drug Price Negotiation under the Inflation Reduction Act, Zachary implied Sanders’s invitation for Davis to testify was a form a retaliation, noting the senator’s repeated criticisms of the lawsuits.

As an alternative, Zachary suggested that a witness other than the Merck’s CEO testify before the committee or that questions and answers be exchanged through writing instead. She also offered a briefing with Sanders and his staff.

“Your insistence on CEOs appearing at a public hearing serves only to underscore the concerns we have raised,” added Zachary.

Updated at 4:33 p.m.

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