Transcript of Speaker Pelosi’s Remarks at Press Call Releasing New Report on Big Pharma’s Stock Buybacks, Dividends & CEO Pay

July 8, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, Congressman Peter Welch and advocates to release a new Oversight and Reform Committee staff report analyzing the financial data of fourteen of the largest drug companies in the world to evaluate the amount they spend to enrich investors and executives, the amount they invest to research and develop new treatments and the potential impact of direct Medicare price negotiations.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you very much Chairwoman Maloney for your strong leadership, and the leadership of the Oversight Committee, in shining a light on the reality of unaffordable prescription drug prices.  Congratulations to you and the Committee and the Committee staff on the drug pricing investigation report that you have – that you are releasing with this call.  I just want to say if anybody's hearing it that doesn't know: Oversight.house.gov gives you access to it.  And I recommend that everyone read at least the executive summary, which is stunning.

I associate myself with your remarks, Madam Chair, because you have spelled out very clearly what the report tells us.  Today's report exposes the shameful unfairness of Americans struggling to afford the medicines they need to stay alive – not to find cures, but to pay Big Pharma stock buybacks, dividends and CEO pay.  How can Pharma say with a straight face – after spending the staggering sum of $577 billion on stock buybacks and dividends in just the last five years – and how can they say with a straight face that lower drug prices for Americans will have to come at the expense of research and development? 

Americans are being charged up to five times as much, or more, what the Big Pharma drug is for the same medicines in other countries.  The drug companies keep hiking prices for medicines discovered years, decades ago.

We're all for innovation.  We understand that to be an investor in a pharmaceutical company is to be a patient investor, but not to be an exploiter of the user of those drugs.  You'll hear from – as you mentioned, Madam Chairwoman, you'll hear from our VIPs, our two VIPs on the call.  Lynn Scarfuto will tell us her story and also from Frederick Isasi from Families USA.  

Families USA, as you indicated, has been a champion on health care for a long time now.  They helped us pass – Families USA was in the lead in passing the Affordable Care Act and then in saving the Affordable Care Act and staving off any of the attempts to take away that health opportunity for America's working families.  Thank you, Frederick.  Thank you, Lynn.  As we bring you on – and understand that we honor you as our VIPs on the call, Lynn, as to share her personal story.  And that takes courage.  Frederick for his ongoing leadership at Families USA and to them as well.  

I want to just say, Madam Chair that you are following so strongly in the footsteps of the former Chair of the Committee, Elijah Cummings.  He was – he fought for this issue for so much of his time in the Congress.  That's why we call the bill the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Cost Now Act.  We passed it, H.R. 3, a year ago, last year in the summer, and it creates a level playing field for real drug price negotiations with the Secretary of [HHS] in the lead, that rewards genuine innovation and prevents Big Pharma from charging Americans prices they don't charge anywhere else in the world.

This, I really – rather than repeating everything you said, associate myself with your remarks most enthusiastically, Madam Chair.  And to say this: empowering Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices is an overwhelming bipartisan priority for the American people across the country.  I can tell you that firsthand as I travel the country.  As I’ve said again and again, I've seen grown men cry at the fact that they cannot keep up with the drug prices for prescription drugs that are necessary for the life and well-being of their family members.  

And again, with the savings from the lower drug prices, we can invest in transformational improvements in Americans health care, particularly addressing some of the benefits for Medicare. 

We have an historic opportunity to do so as we craft the reconciliation bill.  We'll see how we proceed there.  I'm very pleased with the principles put forth by Ron Wyden in the Senate and hope that we can have this done in short order.  Let me tell you why.

We have been working on this for decades.  In the election of 2006, in our Six For ‘06 agenda that we put forth, one of the six – there were six bills that we would pass if we – in the first 100 hours if we won the House.  We did.  And we passed it in the first 100 hours.  It did it all five – five of the six became law.  Only one did not, enabling Secretaries to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices.  That he could not get the 60 votes in the Senate at that time.  But now we have an opportunity again.

So, this has been a long-standing fight we've been engaged in.  And we see today as an opportunity in the Build Back Better For The People agenda.  Lowering health care costs by reducing the price of prescription drugs makes a big difference in the lives of America's working families.  

Now, it is my honor to introduce Lynn Scarfuto.  Lynn, thank you for your courage to share your story, for your generosity of spirit to be with us now and as the Madam Chair indicated in your presentation to the Committee.  Lynn Scarfuto as – for her it has been a matter of life and death, as it has been for many families struggling to pay for medicines they need to stay healthy.

Thank you, Lynn, for being with us.

And now it's my pleasure and privilege to yield to you.

* * *

Moderator.  First question comes from Alice Ollstein from Politico.  Your line is open.

Q:  Thank you so much.  Question for Speaker Pelosi or Chair Maloney.  Can – at this point, can you guarantee that H.R. 3 will be part of a reconciliation package later this year?  And has Leadership reached out to the moderate Members of the Democratic Caucus who've expressed concerns about this?

Speaker Pelosi.  If I may, on the reconciliation, we're not making any – we’re not negotiating the reconciliation package on this call.  It is something that we have been advocating for for a long time.  And we see that as an opportunity.  We're always in touch with our Members, because we are always building consensus within our Caucus on this subject.  But I can tell you generationally, and every Congress, we have all been calling for this for a very, very long time.  It is a high priority for the House Democrats.  And now we hope – it has great support in the Senate as well.

Chair Maloney.  I'd just like to add that it is a priority, I would say, just from the Caucus.  I'd say all of our Caucus says that the American people need systemic reforms like H.R. 3 to alleviate the financial burden of lifesaving prescription drugs, which we heard so dramatically from them.

And our report indicates that these reforms do not need to come at the cost of medical innovation.  And that is a storyline: a false choice that the pharmaceutical companies are putting out.  In stark numbers, it shows that you can do this.  And it also showed – and I thought very troubling – that not all research and development is truly innovative.  Much of what the companies are spending their money on is figuring out ways to suppress competition and keep their prices high.  So, I yield back.

Moderator.  Thank you.  Next question comes from Peter Sullivan from The Hill.  Your line is open, sir.

Q:  Hi, thank you.  I wanted to ask Speaker Pelosi – you mentioned Senator Wyden’s principles.  I wonder how, given that the Senate Democrats seem to be working on at least a slightly different drug pricing bill, how many changes to the House H.R. 3 are you willing to make?  Are there any – to bridge the gap with the Senate, are there any red lines you have of things in your bill that you're not willing to change?

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, let me just say that what we want to do, our goal that we all share, is to lower the cost of prescription drugs for the American people.  In order to do that, it is essential that we have the power to negotiate resting in the hands of the Secretary of HHS.  I said something else earlier – HHS.  In order to get the benefit of that lower drug prices, the savings that comes from that will also enable us to expand benefits.  And that is something that is of great interest to all Members – House and Senate Democratic Members.  So, if we – if many people are advocating for expanding benefits in order to cover the cost, we need to negotiate for lower prices.  

So, it is – if you look at our bill and their principles, we can find a place to have common ground.  We are in conversation with Republicans as well.  We're trying to find common ground to get the job done.  And I know that Senator Grassley – I've met with him on more than one occasion on this subject.  He is meeting with some of our Members as well.  So, we're hopeful that we can find a path that is strong, bipartisan, with savings to enable us to have expanded the benefits.  But again, I'm not on this call to say what I would give up in order to get an expanded benefit.  That's a matter of negotiation.

Chair Maloney.  I’d just like to add that one of the findings from the Committee's investigation is that the drug companies actively and intentionally target the U.S. for price increases.  And often they do this while cutting prices in the rest of the world.  Because they are negotiating lower prices.  It's just totally unfair to the American public.  

Speaker Pelosi.  If I may add on the subject of innovation: I have been a strong advocate for my many years in the Congress for increased funding for the National Institutes of Health so that we can have our basic biomedical research, which enables these companies to take off from there into their further research.  So, the taxpayers are paying a great deal of money for innovation already.  And they should not have to pay more – pay to subsidize lower drug costs for people overseas.  You know, we want everybody to have the best possible price, including the people in our country, again, who have subsidized with their tax dollars the basic biomedical research, which is the basis for much of this – of the innovation.  And we continue – I think it's probably one of the best dollars spent by the federal government – our investment in biomedical research funding at the NIH on that subject.  And also the investments in education, which are the seeds for that innovation.

Moderator.  Thank you. Next question comes from Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar with the Associated Press.  Your line is open, sir.

Q:  I thank you for taking the question.  And I wanted to ask Speaker Pelosi if she could give us an overview of how this reconciliation package is going to proceed?  Do you have a number, particularly for the health care on the House side?  And is it your expectation that the Senate will go first?  The House will go first?  How are we likely to see the action unfolding in the coming weeks?

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, I'm happy to answer your question, but first, I did want to yield to our guests to see if they had some comments on the questions they've heard so far.  

Lynn, did you have any observation you'd like to make as to what it means to a consumer of this – of these prescription drugs for whom it is almost prohibitive?  And, and Frederick any comments from the standpoint of Families USA on the questions you've heard so far?  Because now we're going – as the Chairwoman said originally, we'll take questions on this subject.  I'll assume that the AP questions on this subject, since it relates to reconciliation – but before we go down that path, I wanted to hear from our VIPs.

Lynn Scarfuto.  Hi, Speaker Pelosi, I do have a comment to add.  And that is, every year at the end of the year, when my grant runs out, I get – I have to reapply to the foundation that handles covering Imbruvica for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.  And my award this year was about $8,000.  I also live in New York State.  And we happen to have EPIC, which is [Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage], so that no drug would ever cost me more than $20.  And my grant pays for that as well.  The problem I see with the competition for generic manufacturers is that they are prohibited as long as Big Pharma is extending their patents to years beyond what was originally meant.

Frederick Isasi.  And Speaker Pelosi, this is Frederick Isasi.  I just wanted to emphasize that this is the number one issue that we hear from health care consumers.  The affordability of health care is what we hear about constantly.  But among all the issues this is by far and above the most pressing, critical.  People's lives are on the line.

You know, we hear stories.  We have a story bank.  We hear from people all the time about the fact that, for example, they are foregoing buying food – I testified about this a few months ago – so they could afford their medication.  We've caught people who had to move back in with their parents, as you know, nearing the age of Medicare and have – basically forego everything in their life except for paying for their medications.  And as, as you just heard, there's a lot of schemes out there to try and hide the actual price of costs from consumers.  

But the end the day what we know when you look at the data is that prices have been going up astronomically.  Consolidation in financial industry is rampant.  It's also rampant in the generics industry.  They're hammering away at just raising prices on the backs of all of us families.  And of course, as we heard from Congressman Welch, employers are screaming out for this.  The cost of premiums for them are going up.  And of course, there are all kinds of things we can't do as a country, because our taxpayer – our tax dollars are going to this and not, for example, you know, building bridges and educating our kids and making sure people have secure futures.

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you, Frederick.  Thank you, Lynn.  

Ricardo, back to your question.  We're in the process of having those conversations.  We are awaiting the budget number from the Senate, which should be eminent as the Leader, Leader Schumer has been clear that he wants it to come within this next week.  It’ll come from the Committee and then reviewed by Members.  And then we'll see their number.  We'll see ours, and we'll make a decision. 

Based on timetable, again, we would want to get this done as soon as possible so that the American people can enjoy the benefits of it.  We want to do it, though, in a way that Builds Back Better, and I have said that – excuse me.  I had said that I really cannot take up the reconciliations until we see the infrastructure and rec – I cannot take up the infrastructure until we see infrastructure and reconciliation addressed by the, by the Senate.  So, all of that will work into the timetable.  And we want to do it without haste, but expeditiously.  

So, as we make those decisions, you'll be aware of it, but I'm not prepared – not prepared to make that announcement today, because those decisions are yet to be made.  It depends on how quickly we can go with the Senate number, our number, the infrastructure bill, which I salute.  I am very pleased that the President was able to come to agreement with a bipartisan group in the Senate on the infrastructure bill.  But we do want to Build Back Better.  And that's why we need reconciliation so the many more people can participate in a bill that addresses the needs of the American people in a way – in a 21st century way rather than a 20th century.

Moderator.  Thank you.  And our last question comes from Eric Wasson from Bloomberg News.  Your line is open.

Q:  Actually the AP asked my question, but I will I will ask the bipartisan infrastructure deal.  We haven't seen texts of it yet.  Have you seen texts, Speaker Pelosi, or do you understand if they're going to be changing it, and why why haven't we really seen a detailed outline of those pay-fors yet?  Thank you.

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, I think that – that's a question better addressed to the Senate.  We haven't seen – no, we haven't seen texts.  I don't know that text is available yet.  I don't know.  But I mean that – that it exists, yet. But – but we do – the President had asked the Republicans, and in a bipartisan way, ‘let us find the areas of infrastructure on which we have agreement, and let us talk about a figure that might – we can agree to.’  That happened.  That's a good thing.  It is – it doesn't mean that there aren't other areas of infrastructure that we need to address, and other areas that we want to, shall we say, invest in.  So, while we salute the infrastructure plan, and we haven't seen it yet, but if it is in keeping with the numbers, that – that they and the prod – the priorities that they have agreed to, then, we're on a good.  Then, we would be on a good path.  

To pay for it, as you know, the President has said that we would not be taxing anyone who makes under $400,000 a year.  So, any revenue that might, I don't know, if they will be included in that bill or the reconciliations, we'll see.  But there are other areas of the tax code.  For example, just simple collecting the taxes – that I think may have common ground, but frankly, this is a Senate bill, and it's a bill that those questions are probably more currently up-to-dately answered on the Senate side. 

But so far, we're okay with what we're hearing, and again, when we move on to reconciliation to Build Back Better, we have to include – this is very important for us to include, and that's the debate that we will be engaged, to include elements of H.R. 3 or some combination that we can come to agreement – agreement on taking us back to where we are.  

I want to salute Congresswoman, Madam Chair, Congresswoman Maloney for her relentless and persist – her relentlessness, her persistence and getting the job done.  When she's on your case, she's on your case, and she's on this case.  I want you to know that we had made, has had concerns about the money that pharmaceutical companies have spent many – some of them have spent more on advertising than on R&D, but they keep using ‘innovation’ that’s being sacrificed because we want more people to have access to the miracle.  

I always say the National Institutes of Health has the power, a biblical power, to cure because of the research that they do that, again, companies use to take further.  

So, thank you.  Thank you, Madam Chair for your leadership.  This is an excellent report that goes beyond what I was saying on advertising because you have the company report.