When I'm having a bad day, something about watching U.S. Representative Katie Porter skewer someone is uniquely satisfying. And boy, did she deliver today. The assassination took place during a congressional hearing: U.S. lawmakers were grilling AbbVie, a pharmaceutical company, about repeatedly raising U.S. prices of the anti-inflammatory drug called Humira, the best-selling prescription drug in the U.S.—you've probably seen the commercials—while slashing the price in other countries. AbbVie has argued that the price increases were necessary to innovate. Many of the lawmakers were not buying it, especially Porter.
After whipping out her trusty and dangerous whiteboard that so many white men have come to fear (AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez was off camera at this moment, but you can imagine him quivering in fear), Porter asked Gonzalez how much AbbVie spends on stock buybacks and dividends. He said he'd have to get back to her. So Porter brought out the big guns, a.k.a. a big sticky note that showed AbbVie spent 50 billion dollars from 2013 to 2018 on stock buybacks and dividends to enrich shareholders— and a much smaller amount on research and development, or R&D, the department that works to improve drugs.
Porter started trending on Twitter after she posted the clip of her questioning.
“The Big Pharma fairytale is one of groundbreaking R&D that justifies astronomical prices, but the pharma reality is that you spent most of your company’s money making money for yourself and your shareholders,” she says after the inquisition. “You’re feeding us lies that we must pay astronomical prices to get innovative products."
I almost felt bad watching. Almost.