Skip to content

PREPARED REMARKS: Sanders Ahead of Vote to Subpoena CEOs to Testify on Outrageously High Prices of Prescription Drugs in America

“Well maybe, just maybe, the CEOs of these pharmaceutical companies should become experts on why they’re ripping off the American people,” said Sanders

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) today held a press conference to discuss the committee’s decision to vote to issue subpoenas for Johnson & Johnson CEO Joaquin Duato and Merck CEO Robert Davis to provide testimony about why their companies charge substantially higher prices for medicine in the United States compared to other countries.

The subpoena vote is scheduled for Wednesday, January 31. If authorized, these would be the first subpoenas issued by the HELP Committee since 1981.

Sanders’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below and can be watched HERE:

There is a lot of discussion about how "divided" our nation is and, on many issues, that is absolutely true. But on one of the most important matters facing our country the American people – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Progressives, Conservatives – could not be more united.

And that is the need to take on the extraordinary greed of the pharmaceutical industry and to substantially lower the outrageously high price of prescription drugs.

As a nation we spend almost twice as much per capita as any other country on healthcare, over $13,000 for every man, woman and child. And one of the reasons for that is that we pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

The outrageous cost of prescription drugs in this country means not only that 1 out of 4 Americans cannot afford the medicine their doctors prescribe, but that our insurance premiums are much higher than they should be as well as hospital costs. Further, the high cost of prescription drugs is putting an enormous burden on taxpayers and seniors by raising the costs of Medicare and Medicaid.

I recently, for example, spoke to the CEO of a hospital who told me that 20% of his budget now goes to pay for prescription drugs.

Meanwhile, as prescription drugs in this country are unaffordable for many, ten of the top pharmaceutical companies in America made over $110 billion in profits in 2022 and pay their CEOs outrageously high compensation packages.

As the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) one of my top priorities is to substantially reduce the price of prescription drugs in America.

And one of the ways to do that is to hold the chief executives of some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in our country accountable for their actions.

Over two months ago, a majority of Senators on the HELP Committee invited Robert Davis, the CEO of Merck; Joaquin Duato, the CEO of Johnson & Johnson; and Chris Boerner, the CEO of Bristol Myers Squibb to a hearing to discuss what they are doing to lower drug prices in America.

Why did we ask these CEOs to come before us?

The answer is pretty simple.

Among other questions we would like some simple answers as to:

Why does the United States pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs – sometimes ten times higher than in other countries?

Why is it that the median price of new prescription drugs in America is now over $220,000 – including many new cancer drugs?

Why has the pharmaceutical industry spent, over the past 25 years, some $8.5 billion on lobbying and over $700 million on campaign contributions?

Why are they spending tens of millions of dollars today on some 1,800 well-paid lobbyists in Washington, DC - including former leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties?

How does it happen that while millions of Americans cannot afford the prescription drugs they need, major drug companies in America spend more on stock buybacks and dividends than they do on research and development?

These are very simple and straightforward questions that are on the minds of millions of Americans, and these are questions that the CEOs of major pharmaceutical companies have a responsibility to answer.

As a result of our invitation, Chris Boerner, the CEO of Bristol Myers Squibb has agreed to voluntarily testify in the HELP Committee. And we very much appreciate that.

Unfortunately, up to this point, the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Merck have rejected our invitation. They apparently feel that they do not have to explain to the American people why prescription drug prices in this country are so high.

As a result, this puts the HELP Committee in the position of having to subpoena these CEOs in order to have them testify.

That vote will take place this Wednesday, January 31st at 11AM.

The CEO of Merck needs to explain to the American people why they charge diabetes patients in the United States $6,900 for Januvia when the exact same product can be purchased in Canada for $900 and just $200 in France.

I want the CEO of Johnson & Johnson to explain to the American people why they charge Americans with arthritis $79,000 for Stelara when it can be purchased for just $16,000 in the United Kingdom?

I want to ask the CEO of Bristol Myers Squibb why they are charging patients in America $7,100 for Eliquis when the same product can be purchased for just $900 in Canada and just $650 in France.

And let’s be clear: These are not struggling companies forced to charge high prices to survive. Believe me, they are not going broke.

In 2022, Johnson & Johnson made nearly $18 billion in profits, paid its CEO over $27 million in compensation and spent over $17 billion on stock buybacks and dividends.

That same year, Merck made $14.5 billion in profit, handed out over $7 billion in dividends to their wealthy stockholders and paid its CEO over $52 million in compensation.

And Bristol Myers Squibb made $6.3 billion in profits last year, while recently spending over $12 billion on stock buybacks and dividends and giving its CEO over $41 million in compensation.

Now, the reasons the companies have given us as to why they don’t believe their CEOs should testify range from laughable to absurd.

They have told us that the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Merck don’t have the expertise necessary to tell us why they charge so much more for their medicine than they do overseas.

Merck went so far as to tell our staff that their CEO is a tax attorney who is not an expert on prescription drug prices.

Well, maybe, just maybe, the CEOs of these pharmaceutical companies should become experts on this subject.

And if they did maybe they would give some thought about lowering the outrageous prices that they are charging the American people.

The companies also claim that the HELP Committee is somehow retaliating against Merck and Johnson & Johnson for filing lawsuits against the Administration’s plan to negotiate for lower drug prices under Medicare.

That is absurd.

These companies have every right to file a lawsuit against the Administration or anyone else.

It is no great secret that millions of ordinary Americans feel that their government no longer represents their interests or feels their pain, and that Congress is more interested in tending to the needs of the rich and large corporations. Well, that’s not going to happen on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Large, multi-national corporations, no matter how many lobbyists they have or how many campaign contributions they make will be held accountable for what they do.

I am proud of what the committee has already accomplished, but clearly much more needs to be done.

Last year, the CEO of Moderna committed during a HELP Committee hearing that his company would set up a patient assistance program so that no one in America would have to pay for their vaccine out of pocket.

In a separate HELP Committee hearing last May, the CEO of Eli Lilly committed that his company would not raise prices on existing insulin products.

It is my hope that the CEOs of Merck and Johnson & Johnson will reconsider their position and voluntarily come before our committee just like 4 other CEOs in the pharmaceutical industry did last year (Moderna, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi).