(Reprinted from the Drug Discount Monitor)
The chairwoman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging excoriated a Turing Pharmaceuticals executive during a hearing today for instructing a subordinate to dispute 340B claims in order to boost company profits.
The committee was holding its second hearing about Turing’s toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim and other decades-old off-patent drugs lacking generic competition whose prices have been raised by hundreds or thousands of a percent. Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) was questioning Turing co-founder and Senior Director of Business Development Michael Smith about transcripts of Skype chats between Smith and other Turing executives. In one conversation, Smith said he thought some reports of patients having problems accessing Daraprim – which went from $17.50 a pill to $750 pill after Turning bought the drug – were “fake.” In another, he expressed surprise that two patients “were paying cash” for Daraprim. “Rich (expletive deleted)? Wow. OMG,” he wrote.
In a third chat with fellow Turing executive Patrick Crutcher, “you then went on to discuss concerns that you had with the 340B…program,” Senator Collins said to Smith. “This is a program that provides needed medicines for our nation’s desperately poor. You expressed concern that it was cutting into Turing’s profits. So as we can see from the slides, your colleague Mr. Crutcher wrote ‘Time to dip out of the 340B claims (expletive deleted). F these guys.’ Your reply, ‘LOL. Yeah. I told her to start disputing the 340B claims.’ So Mr. Smith, that exchange alone, and there are many more I could have pointed to, make it very difficult for me to believe your statement when you express your deep concern for the patients.”
Smith responded, “There is some concern within the industry that the 340B program is fraudulently used….Those comments I was making in those informal discussion between coworkers…there are many stupid comments in here and regretful language.”
“Well, ‘LOL, yeah’ doesn’t sound like you’re really talking about fraudulent claims,” Senator Collins fired back. “The whole tenor of this exchange is ‘Can you believe there are suckers out there who are paying the full price…we have to start fighting back on the 340B program. There’s nothing in there that expresses an iota of concern for the patients who are getting help through the 340B program. Nothing at all.”
Earlier in during the hearing, the mother of a newborn daughter with congenital toxoplasmosis told the committee how “hopeless and depressed” she felt not knowing how she and her husband would find the $360,000 they needed to pay for year’s worth of Daraprim after the couple’s insurance company denied coverage.
“I spent days researching Daraprim to see if there was another way to obtain it,” Shannon Westgate said. She said she was “at a complete loss to do” when the University of North Carolina Medical Center infectious diseases specialist treating her daughter Isla called to say the hospital had obtained enough Daraprim “that we could be sure Isla would receive treatment for at least a year.” The Westgates are buying Daraprim directly from the UNC Medical Center pharmacy for only $48 per month. “I am so grateful that this option was found before it was too late for my daughter,” Westgate said.
UNC Medical Center participates in the 340B drug discount program. Many 340B healthcare providers say the reduced prices they pay enable them to provide medicines like Daraprim to families like the Westgates at reduced or no cost.