Sanders Confident of Senate Panel’s Support for Subpoenaing J&J, Merck CEOs

U.S. Capitol_iStock, Mikhail Makarov

Pictured: The Capitol building in Washington, DC/iStock, Mikhail Makarov

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, expressed optimism in a press conference Thursday that he would have the members’ necessary support in a Jan. 31 vote to subpoena the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Merck to testify before the panel on drug pricing.

Sanders last week warned the pharma execs that he could subpoena them, forcing them to testify before the HELP committee and explain why their companies “charge substantially higher prices for medicine in the U.S. compared to other countries.”

If Sanders does manage to get the support of the panel’s members, it would be the first subpoenas issued by the HELP committee in more than 40 years.

In his prepared remarks on Thursday, Sanders again blasted the “extraordinary greed of the pharmaceutical industry” which he argued is why “millions of Americans cannot afford the prescription drugs they need” while “major drug companies in America spend more on stock buybacks and dividends than they do on research and development.”

The committee chair also lashed out at “the outrageous cost” of prescription drugs in the U.S. that has resulted in 25% of Americans not being able to afford the medicines their doctors prescribe, while “the high cost of prescription drugs is putting an enormous burden on taxpayers and seniors by raising the costs of Medicare and Medicaid.”

Sanders has to secure a simple majority vote for his subpoenas to push through. According to an analysis by STAT News, he could clinch a victory even without Republican participation—if all Democratic members voted in his favor. Most HELP committee Democrats have directly or indirectly indicated their support for Sanders.

When asked by a reporter during the press conference about predicting the outcome of the Jan. 31 committee vote, Sanders said that “in the Senate, you’re never totally confident of anything, but yes, I think we will have the votes,” according to Endpoints News.

Sanders, with the backing of all Democratic committee members, first invited the CEOs of J&J, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb in November 2023, asking them to testify in a hearing about the excessively high cost of drugs. The hearing was initially scheduled for Jan. 25, 2024.

Chris Boerner, CEO of BMS, previously agreed to the invitation. Executives of other pharma companies, including Sanofi, Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly and Moderna, also voluntarily testified previously before the HELP committee.

Tristan Manalac is an independent science writer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. He can be reached at tristan@tristanmanalac.com or tristan.manalac@biospace.com.

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