Lawmakers showed little sympathy for the CEO of pharmaceutical company Mylan at a Congressional hearing on Wednesday, where she attempted to justify the firm's 400 percent price hike for the lifesaving drug EpiPen.
The House Oversight Committee took aim at Mylan's chief executive Heather Bresch, asking her to explain the skyrocketing cost of an essential tool for preventing someone from going into anaphylactic shock from an allergic reaction.
"I find this to be so extreme. We're talking about tens of millions of Americans who have to have [an EpiPen]," said the committee's Republican chairman from Utah Jason Chaffetz as he opened the hearing holding an EpiPen as a prop.
Ranking minority member and Representative Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, waved the same EpiPen as he accused Mylan of increasing the cost of the drug "to get filthy rich at the expense" of the American people.
"Yesterday, someone asked me if I wanted the head of Mylan to apologize today," he said. "I think that would be appropriate, but it will not cause Mylan to treat my constituents fairly and bring down the prices to where they should be."
Since Mylan bought the rights to EpiPen in 2008, the price has gone from around $100 for a pair of pens to around $600 for a two-pack. The increase has been gradual, but the latest uptick in 2016 sparked public outcry and the congressional investigation.
Chaffetz said the lack of competition in the market contributed to the situation and that families were forced to incur the increasingly high cost for a drug that is often not covered by insurers. He highlighted one of the main critiques Bresch has been hit with since the controversy exploded the summer — her $19 million annual salary. Chaffetz said the salaries for Bresch and other executives at the firm "doesn't add up for a lot of people."
With a brief chance to state her case before the questioning portion of the hearing got underway, Bresch described her small town upbringing in West Virginia as she attempted to justify the company's practices.
The 47-year-old executive said the company was motivated to boost public use of the product after they purchased it and learned that just a fraction of the more than 40 million people who require EpiPens actually had access. "I've spent my entire career working to break down barriers, expand access to high-quality medicines and lower health-care costs," Bresch said.
Her attempts to outline the drug's financial breakdown — including sales revenues, wholesale acquisition costs, and profits — were picked apart throughout the hearing. Chaffetz said it was "a little hard to believe" Bresch's claim that the company was making just $50 in profit per pen. EpiPen sales bring in more than $1 billion a year for Mylan.
Both sides of the aisle expressed disgust for the pricing practice and skepticism that the high costs were necessary. Representative John Duncan, who declared himself a "very conservative, pro-business Republican," said he was sickened by what he heard today.
"The greed is astounding, it's sickening and disgusting," the Tennessee Republican said before the committee went on recess to participate in a vote on the house floor.
While Mylan found itself under the microscope on Wednesday, the overarching issue of drug pricing played a prominent role in the hearing. Both Cummings and Chaffetz highlighted that this was the second time this year a congressional hearing was centered around skyrocketing pharmaceutical costs.
The first hearing took place in February, when the now infamous 32-year-old "pharma bro" and former Turing Pharmaceuticals executive Martin Shkreli was brought to the hill to testify over the price increase of his company's drug Daraprim. Comparing Bresch to Shkreli, Cummings said Mylan acquired EpiPen and then "used a simple but corrupt business model" seen throughout the pharmaceutical industry.
"We've seen it over and over and over again. Find a cheap drug that has virtually no competition and raise the price over and over and over again, as high as you can," he said. "That's what Martin Shkreli did."
Wednesday's hearing will not be the end for Bresch and Mylan. In addition to the Oversight committee's investigation, there are several other national and state level investigations in the works. Just this week, lawmakers in the Senate requested an inquiry from the Finance committees. Both New York and West Virginia have also opened their own investigations.