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Sanders excoriates ‘unprecedented’ greed of Big Pharma during pandemic

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Picture: Mark Kauzlarich/REUTERS – The senator has asked if it is “morally acceptable that tens of thousands of people die each year in this country because they cannot afford the medicine their doctors prescribe, while at the same time, the drug companies make billions of dollars in profits”.

By Brett Wilkins

Asserting that Americans are “sick and tired of being ripped off” by Big Pharma during the Covid-19 pandemic, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said Wednesday that Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s billionaire CEO, will testify next month before the Senate committee he chairs.

Last month, Sanders wrote to Bancel — who according to the committee “became a billionaire after US taxpayers gave his company billions of dollars to research, develop, and distribute its Covid-19 vaccines” — urging the CEO to “refrain from more than quadrupling the price of the vaccine to as much as $130 while it costs just $2.85 to manufacture.”

Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sanders, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labour, and Pensions Committee, said the American people want to know “how does it happen that in the United States we pay by far … the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs?”

“Why is it, people are asking, that nearly one out of every four Americans cannot afford the prescriptions their doctors write?” he added. “Think about how crazy that is.”

“How does it happen that nearly half of all new drugs in the United States cost more than $150,000 a year?” Sanders asked. “How does it happen that in Canada and other major countries, [the] same exact same medications, manufactured by the same exact companies, are sold for a fraction of the price that we pay in America?”

According to a new HELP Committee report:

The answers to these questions are not complicated. In fact, they can be summed up in three words — unprecedented corporate greed.

Over the past 25 years, the pharmaceutical industry has spent $8.5 billion on lobbying and over $745 million on campaign contributions to get Congress and the government to do its bidding. Incredibly, last year, the drug companies hired over 1,700 lobbyists including the former congressional leaders of both major political parties — over three pharmaceutical industry lobbyists for every member of Congress. And it has paid off — big time.

“Meanwhile,” said Sanders, “as Americans die because they cannot afford the medications they need, the pharmaceutical industry makes higher profits every year than other major industries, year after year after year.”

“Between the years 2000 and 2018, drug companies in this country made over $8 trillion … in profits,” the senator noted.

As the HELP Committee reported:

Ten of the top pharmaceutical companies in the US — AbbVie, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Merck, Moderna, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Amgen, Gilead Sciences, and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals — made a total of more than $102 billion in profits in 2021 — a 137 percent increase from the previous year. In 2021 alone, 50 top executives in these 10 pharmaceutical companies took home over $1.9 billion in compensation and stock awards. Those 50 pharmaceutical executives are also in line to receive golden parachutes amounting to more than $2.8 billion when they depart the companies. Those golden parachutes are tied to the company’s stock price and provide executives with massive payouts if they leave the company on good terms after hitting certain stock price targets — a tactic to ensure executives focus on increasing their company’s stock prices at the expense of Americans who cannot afford their lifesaving medication.

“The question that I think Americans should be asking themselves,” said Sanders, is if it is “morally acceptable that tens of thousands of people die each year in this country because they cannot afford the medicine their doctors prescribe, while at the same time, the drug companies make billions of dollars in profits and provide their CEOs with huge compensation packages”?

“The American people, regardless of their political affiliations, are sick and tired of being ripped off by the pharmaceutical industry,” Sanders concluded. “Now is the time for us to have the courage to take on the 1,700 lobbyists all over Capitol Hill, to take on the unlimited financial resources of that industry. Now is the time to stand with the American people and substantially lower prescription drug prices in this country.”

Moderna said Wednesday that its mRNA vaccine “will continue to be available at no cost for insured people” and that “for uninsured or underinsured people, Moderna’s patient assistance programme will provide Covid-19 vaccines at no cost“.

Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams

This article was first published on Common Dreams