Corporate Evildoers Beware: Katie Porter Has A Whiteboard And She's Not Afraid To Use It
Yr Dok Zoom is of an age where he remembers how much fun it used to be to watch "60 Minutes" and look forward to how the very sight of Mike Wallace approaching with a camera crew could drive various corporate malefactors into a frenzy of denial and lying. Or how, if the baddies foolishly agreed to sit for an interview, their confidently smarmy attempts to snow Wallace would inevitably fall apart as he brought the evidence against them. Jump forward a few decades, and now we have Rep. Katie Porter (D-California), who accomplishes much the same thing in congressional hearings, with a simple dry-erase board and a head full of damning facts.
In a House Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday, Porter confronted Mark Alles, the former CEO of pharma company Celgene, pointing out that when the company jacked up the price of a cancer-fighting drug, Alles made a ton of money in bonuses. Not for improving the drug, but for making it more profitable. The full video is on Porter's YouTube channel, but it's plagued by audio feedback, so we'll instead go with this snippet posted to YouTube by consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. Bask in its glory.
Oh my god, Katie Porter. https://t.co/tO6B7xCx3G— Public Citizen (@Public Citizen)1601492434.0
Before she got to the bit in the clip above, Porter first reviewed the price history of the drug, Revlimid, which is used to treat multiple myeloma, and asked Alles, "Did the drug start to work faster? Were there fewer side effects? How did you change the formula or production of Revlimid to justify this price increase?"
Alles admitted that nothing about the formulation of the drug had changed, although it had been approved for a few additional uses. Porter then pointed out that the average senior citizen in her district has only about $500 a month left over after expenses, and wouldn't be able to afford even a single pill.
Then Porter put up a fresh number: $13 million. "Do you know what this number is? Does it ring any bells?"
Alles hesitantly replied, "I ... think you're referring to my compensation in some way." Good call, sir! For 2017, at least.
Porter then went on to point out that $13 million is "200 times the average American's income, and 360 times what the average senior gets on Social Security," before calculating that Alles had received a hefty bonus — $500,000 over his last two years at the company — simply by increasing the cost of Revlimid.
As the Washington Post points out, the math was already spelled out in a congressional investigation of prescription drug prices, published Wednesday in conjunction with the hearing, which found that yes indeed, Celgene and another drug company, Teva, had jacked up prices for the sake of meeting earnings expectations, guaranteeing bonuses for executives — and, not incidentally, higher costs for Medicare and other insurers. As Porter told Alles,
To recap here: The drug didn't get any better. The cancer patients didn't get any better. You just got better at making money. You just refined your skills at price gouging. And to be clear, the taxpayers spent $3.3 billion on Revlimid.
Mr. Alles left Celgene when it was was acquired in a corporate buyout last year. We're far too lazy to look up where he landed, but we'd like to think maybe he considered becoming CEO of a ride-sharing company in Germany, so he could be Deutschland Uber Alles. (Oh, hey, he'd be a Deutsche Mark, too!)
And we look forward to the next time Katie Porter, who studied bankruptcy law at Harvard under Elizabeth Warren, brings that "whiteboard of truth" out at a hearing.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.