Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the likely next head of the House Oversight Committee, wants to bring the CEOs of drugmakers to grill them on the actual cause behind high drug prices.
Cummings told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday that Congress has been “constantly told that nobody seems to know why prices are so high.” If he helms the House Oversight Committee as expected next year when Democrats take control of the House, he will have the power to subpoena CEOs and hold oversight hearings.
Cummings said he wants CEOs to explain their funding for research and development. Pharma companies often employ a defense that high prices are justified to compensate for high research and development costs.
“We have to bring the drug companies in here and let them explain to us that when they say they are doing R&D does that mean advertisement, does that mean giving doctors extra money to prescribe their medications?” Cummings said. “We have to figure all of that out, and once we do, we will figure out how to attack it.”
Cummings has been a staunch advocate for tackling high drug prices, sponsoring legislation to give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices, among other bills.
The House Oversight Committee under Republican leadership has only sparingly brought pharma CEOs in for hearings.
There was a memorable hearing in early 2016 featuring Martin Shkreli, the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, which gained infamy for raising the price of an anti-malarial drug practically overnight from $ 13.50 a pill to $ 750. Shkreli was later convicted of federal fraud charges unrelated to the price hike.
Shkreli declined to answer the committee’s questions because he was under a federal indictment at the time of the hearing, but Cummings lashed out at Shkreli for smirking during the hearing.
The committee also brought in Mylan CEO Heather Bresch in 2016 to explain a price hike for the allergy drug EpiPen.