Lawmakers press AbbVie CEO on increased US prices of two drugs

May 18, 2021
In The News

A group of mostly Democratic House lawmakers pressed drugmaker AbbVie’s CEO on Tuesday over the increased prices of anti-inflammatory drug Humira and cancer drug Imbruvica in the U.S. in the years since they first became available.  

AbbVie's Richard Gonzalez faced tough questions from the Oversight and Reform Committee, with Democrats accusing the company of taking advantage of patients and the health care system to charge more for medicine and bring in billions of dollars for revenue and executive bonuses. 

“You haven’t made the drug any better even as you doubled the cost,” Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) said during the hearing. “You’re feeding us lies that we must pay astronomical prices to get innovative products.”

Ahead of the hearing, the committee reviewed more than 170,000 pages of internal documents spanning 18 years and published a staff report that concluded AbbVie hiked prices for the two drugs in the U.S. while having to reduce prices in other countries. 

“AbbVie’s CEO Mr. Gonzalez sought to cast blame on others for AbbVie’s high prices,” Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in her closing remarks. “But the facts showed that AbbVie raised prices on Americans for one simple reason: greed.” 

Gonzalez had pointed to the structure of Medicare, saying Part D patients make up the largest patient group that lacks access to affordable medicine. 

“For these patients, reducing drug prices alone will not alleviate the challenge of access and affordability,” he said in his opening statement. 

But Maloney argued that AbbVie pushed for escalated prices in the U.S. because Medicare does not have the ability to negotiate lower drug prices, while other nations could. She called for the passage of H.R. 3, drug pricing legislation backed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). 

Several Republicans, however, said H.R. 3 could jeopardize current investment in innovation, giving companies less incentive to research new medicines and make those drugs available in the U.S.

“How can you defend American prices of pharmaceuticals overseas versus the prices on drugs in the nation that you love?” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) asked.

“Your answers to the chair were evasive at best and appear to be obviously written by attorneys,” Higgins said.

Gonzalez responded by saying, “The short answer is outside the United States you have socialized health care systems.”

“That does force the U.S. to pay far more of the innovation costs of our industry,” he added later. “That is a reality.”

The raised prices in question include 27 separate increases to Humira’s cost in the U.S. since it was launched in 2003. Humira, the best-selling drug in the U.S. and the world, now costs $2,984 per syringe in the country — a 470 percent increase. 

In 2015, a 40 milligram syringe of Humira, used for arthritis and other inflammatory diseases, cost $1,000 more in the U.S. than in Canada, the U.K., Germany, Japan and South Korea, the committee said in its report. 

AbbVie and its partner Janssen Biotech have boosted the price of Imbruvica nine times since its release in 2013, reaching $181,529 — an 82 percent increase.

On Tuesday, Maloney, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and a Judiciary Antitrust subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-R.I.) called on the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into AbbVie to see if it violated the law by delaying competition against Humira.

The Oversight Committee launched its investigation into drug prices in 2019 under late Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and threatened to subpoena AbbVie for documents related to Humira and Imbruvica last year, citing the company’s “unwillingness to comply voluntarily.”