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'Greed Is a Danger to Public Health': Progressive Caucus Urges Ban on Big Pharma Coronavirus Price-Gouging

"As we've seen all too often from Big Pharma, saving lives is incidental to their business model—the profit motive always comes first."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) speaks during an oversight hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill February 8, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In the wake of Gilead's announcement that it will charge U.S. hospitals $3,120 per privately insured patient for a treatment course of Covid-19 drug remdesivir, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is calling on Congress to pass legislation combating the pharmaceutical industry's effort to "profiteer off a pandemic" by imposing exorbitant prices.

"This doesn't come as a surprise—after all, this is the same company that once priced a lifesaving Hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi, at $1000 per pill, totaling $84,000 for a single course of treatment," Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said of Gilead in a statement Wednesday. "Sadly, as we've seen all too often from Big Pharma, saving lives is incidental to their business model—the profit motive always comes first."

"Big Pharma's greed is a danger to public health—Congress cannot allow it to go unaddressed any longer."
—Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Mark Pocan

Jayapal and Pocan urged the House Democratic leadership to hold a floor vote on Rep. Jan Schakowsky's (D-Ill.) Make Medications Affordable by Preventing Pandemic Price-Gouging Act, which would require the federal government to "mandate reasonable, affordable pricing of any new, taxpayer-funded Covid-19 drug used to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or treat Covid-19."

"In a time of unprecedented national suffering, with more than 125,000 of our neighbors, coworkers, and loved ones dead from the coronavirus, Gilead has chosen to exploit the desperation of millions and profiteer off a pandemic," said Jayapal and Pocan. "But just because Gilead will exploit this pandemic, that doesn't mean that Congress should let them."

"Researchers have estimated that Gilead could cover the price of manufacturing remdesivir at scale with reasonable profit at a market price of $1 per day. But instead, Gilead plans to charge $520 a vial—an outrageous and unjustifiable mark-up," the lawmakers added. "Big Pharma's greed is a danger to public health—Congress cannot allow it to go unaddressed any longer."

The Progressive Caucus' demand comes as the Trump administration, as Common Dreams reported Thursday, actively opens the door to pharma price-gouging by refusing to exercise federal authority to hold down prices for coronavirus treatments developed with taxpayer money.

In several government contracts with pharmaceutical giants obtained by consumer advocacy group Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), the Trump administration left out a standard condition requiring that products developed with the help of federal funds be made available to the public "on reasonable terms."

"This means that the government has limited its ability to intervene if the pharmaceutical companies (which are party to the agreements and are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars to conduct the research) charge unreasonable prices for the resulting Covid-19 vaccines or treatments," said KEI.

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