Under indictment by the Justice Department for securities fraud and by the general public for predatory drug pricing, former Turing Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli smirked his way through a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday. The so-called “pharma bro,” notorious for jacking up the price of a drug needed by victims of infectious disease by 5,000 percent, invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer any of the substantive questions put to him.
However, he had only been out of the hearing room for a few minutes when he went on social media to slam the members of Congress who had tried to question him as “imbeciles.”
Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government.— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) February 4, 2016
Meanwhile, his attorney, Ben Brafman, who during the hearing had to be silenced by Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz when he attempted to speak from the audience, spoke to reporters. Congress and the press may be painting his client as a villain, he said, but the reality is that Shkreli is “a hero.”
Shkreli, wearing a sport jacket and an open-collared shirt, made no attempt to hide his contempt for the lawmakers questioning him Thursday morning, shaking his head and rolling his eyes as they spoke to him. At one point he appeared to be on the brink of laughter when the committee’s ranking Democrat, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, was speaking to him about the AIDS patients and others unable to afford his company’s drug, Daraprim.
Shkreli’s refusal to testify was particularly aggravating to some of the attorneys on the committee, including South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, who pointed out that Shkreli had spoken at length on the very topic of the hearing – drug pricing – in a recent media interview.
None of the appeals moved Shkreli, who snarked back at Gowdy, “I intend to follow the advice of counsel, not yours.”
Shkreli was eventually escorted from the room.
He was not the only pharma executive on the panel, which continued through the morning.
Valeant Pharmaceuticals interim CEO Howard B. Schiller, in a prepared statement, tried to make the case that his company’s decision to increase the price of two cardiac medications it markets, Nitropress and Isuprel, by 350 percent would only affect hospitals’ bottom lines, not patient access.
“Because these drugs are hospital-administered, and not purchased by patients directly, increasing the cost of the drugs to hospitals would affect the hospital’s profits on these procedures, but it should not reduce patient access.”
This is not unlike arguing that charging a restaurant 350 percent more for beef will have no impact on the price of a steak dinner.
With Shkreli no longer employed by Turing, and having signaled in advance that he would not answer questions anyway, the company sent chief commercial officer Nancy Retzlaff to the hearing. She delivered testimony about Turing’s dedication to patients, and to making its medication available to the needy.
The point was undercut somewhat by a point Rep. Cummings raised during his questioning of Shkreli. The company, he noted, made $98 million on Daraprim last year, and paid manufacturing costs for the drug of only about $1 million.