Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee Tom Carper and Robert Menendez in October of 2018, who took $143,550 and $188,763 respectively from Big Pharma in 2018
Photo: Getty Images

The CEOs of America’s largest drug companies will testify on Capitol Hill today. But will U.S. senators really hold their feet to the fire after taking so much money from those same drug companies?

Starting at 10:15 am ET (7:15 am PT), the Senate Finance Committee will have the opportunity to question the CEOs of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, Sanofi, AbbVie, and AstraZeneca. A livestream of the testimony will be available at the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance’s website.

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Americans pay the highest drug prices in the world for absolutely no good reason. The drug companies will tell you that it’s because American consumers are financing “innovation,” but the real reason is that the U.S. doesn’t have price control laws that limit what drug companies can charge, unlike much of the world and every wealthy country. And U.S. senators, both Republicans and Democrats alike, are each raking in thousands of dollars every year from the pharmaceutical industry.

The drug companies spent over $230 million lobbying last year alone. But how much do senators on the Finance Committee get directly from Big Pharma? Thanks to the website Open Secrets, we know exactly how much they got last year. And it’ll be helpful to keep that information in mind as these same people are questioning the drug company CEOs today.

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Money to Republicans From the Pharmaceutical Industry in 2018

  • Chuck Grassley, Iowa- $12,000
  • Mike Crapo, Idaho - $131,800
  • Pat Roberts, Kansas - $27,500
  • Mike Enzi, Wyoming - $25,000
  • John Cornyn, Texas - $62,600
  • John Thune, South Dakota - $40,600
  • Richard Burr, North Carolina - $18,500
  • Johnny Isakson, Georgia - $68,000
  • Rob Portman, Ohio - $96,3508
  • Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania - $50,776
  • Tim Scott, South Carolina - $57,700
  • Bill Cassidy, Louisiana - $156,600
  • James Lankford, Oklahoma - $6,000
  • Steve Daines, Montana - $13,200
  • Todd Young, Indiana - $95,150

Money to Democrats From the Pharmaceutical Industry in 2018

  • Ron Wyden, Oregon - $76,220
  • Debbie Stabenow, Michigan - $97,531
  • Maria Cantwell, Washington - $35,232
  • Bob Menendez, New Jersey - $188,763
  • Tom Carper, Delaware - $143,550
  • Ben Cardin, Maryland - $67,374
  • Sherrod Brown, Ohio - $96,946
  • Michael Bennet, Colorado - $33,265
  • Bob Casey, Pennsylvania - $532,859
  • Mark Warner, Virginia - $59,733
  • Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island - $54,696
  • Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire - $20,163
  • Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada - $16,334

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley chairs the Senate Finance committee and the healthcare industry considers him a “critic” despite the fact that he hasn’t done much to actually reign in the drug companies, which can legally charge consumers as much as they like. Senator Grassley, like many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, have called for more transparency in drug prices, as though that would actually bring down the costs.

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Grassley’s modest reforms have included a proposal to require that the price of drugs be included in TV ads. But such measures only serve to show how out of touch American lawmakers are with the rest of the world. The U.S. and New Zealand are the only two countries that even allow direct to consumer advertising of prescription medications in the first place—advertising that creates artificial demand for specific brand name drugs. But even these modest and inconsequential reforms can’t get through. Grassley’s ad pricing bill died in the House.

While he’s taken in far less money than most, Grassley’s legislation serves as an example of just how broken everything really is. Senator Grassley received “only” $12,000 from Big Pharma last year. Calling Grassley a reformer is a bit like praising the shiniest turd in the turd contest.

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One major point of contention during the hearings will no doubt be about the skyrocketing cost of insulin, something that has received considerable media coverage in the past few months. Prices for the drug have gone up as much as 150 percent over the past five years. A class action lawsuit involving 67 diabetics has been filed against Novo, Eli Lilly, and Sanofi for jacking up prices on the live-saving drug.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the prices for some of the most popular medications are rising by the month:

AbbVie’s rheumatoid arthritis treatment Humira is the top-selling drug in the world, and the company said that both volume and pricing fueled the drug’s growth during the fourth quarter. AbbVie raised the drug’s list price by 9.7% in January 2018 and then 6.2% more last month.

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Who’s going to ask AbbVie CEO Richard A. Gonzalez about his price gouging today? And will senators simply accept whatever he says at face value?

The drug companies have been under fire on Capitol Hill before. But the past provides a depressing lesson for the future. Remember when Mylan, the makers of EpiPen came under fire back in the summer of 2016 for price gouging, raising the prices of the EpiPen from roughly $57 in 2007 to $600 in 2016?

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Mylan’s CEO, Heather Bresch, testified and endured criticism. But then everyone went home and things went back to normal as consumers continued to get hosed. The chairman of Mylan reportedly said in private that anyone who was criticizing their practices could go fuck themselves. The CEO even lied to Congress, saying that Mylan made a lot less profit than they actually did. Nobody went to jail and nothing changed in any significant way.

Every time you hear some senator asking a question today, feel free to consult our helpful list above. Will Democratic Senator Bob Casey demand real answers from the healthcare CEOs after taking $532,859 from the industry last year? We’re not holding our breath, but we may want to anyway. This is a turd contest, after all.

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Update, 10:25am: Aside from the Senate Finance Committee’s video stream on its website, PBS Newshour also has a livestream of the testimony on YouTube:

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