Lawmaker calls out Turing for 'Orwellian double-speak' on pricing

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings

Last week, Turing Pharmaceuticals revealed it would not lower the price of its toxoplasmosis drug, Daraprim, offering discounts to hospitals instead and planning to roll out smaller bottles with fewer tablets to defray costs. But the move did little to appease many of the company's foes, including Rep. Elijah Cummings, who is hopping mad at Turing over its decision. And Cummings isn't mincing words.

In a letter addressed to Turing CEO Martin Shkreli, Cummings calls out the company for its plans to offer up to 50% discounts to hospitals for Daraprim and produce new, smaller bottles with 30 tablets instead of 100, potentially making it easier for healthcare systems to stock the drug. The move is "nothing but a transparent, shameless, and wholly inadequate attempt" by the company to save face after buying Daraprim in August and jacking up the price 5,000% from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill, Cummings said in his letter.

"To claim that a 50% discount after a 5,000% increase is a 'price cut' is Orwellian double-speak," Cummings said. Even with the discount, hospitals still have to pay $375 per pill, he pointed out. "Obviously, you are not doing hospitals any favors by exponentially increasing the price of Daraprim and then decreasing the size of the bottles," Cummings said.

The vocal drug pricing critic also took aim at Turing's recent decision to sell Daraprim to the Texas AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) for $1 per bottle, or $0.01 per pill. The agreement "merely appears to bring your company into compliance with federal law," which requires drugmakers to pay rebates for costly meds doled out through patient assistance programs such as ADAP, Cummings said in his note.

This is not the first time Cummings has gone after Turing for its price-setting ways. Back in September, Cummings and Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote to the company, requesting that it turn over documents justifying its massive price increases for Daraprim. Turing wrote back the next month but said that it would not turn over any of the requested documents.

"If you truly are committed to ensuring the lowest possible costs for hospitals and patients--as your recent press releases claim--then I ask you to stop obstructing congressional oversight efforts and immediately provide the documents we have requested," Cummings said in his recent letter to Turing.

Meanwhile, Cummings is heading up congressional efforts to crack down on companies such as Turing and Valeant ($VRX) for steep price hikes on meds. The Democratic members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led by Cummings, are pushing Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz to subpoena Shkreli to reveal information on drug price increases. And the committee recently set up a task force, promising to take "meaningful action" against skyrocketing drug prices.

- read the letter (PDF)
- here's the statement