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Merck, Johnson & Johnson CEOs agree to appear before Senate HELP 

Announcement cancels out planned Jan. 31 subpoena vote for CEOs of two pharmaceutical companies

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Bernie Sanders announced Friday that two pharmaceutical company CEOs will testify before the committee on Feb. 8 rather than face a subpoena.
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Bernie Sanders announced Friday that two pharmaceutical company CEOs will testify before the committee on Feb. 8 rather than face a subpoena. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The CEOs of two pharmaceutical companies will appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voluntarily to testify on prescription drug prices, avoiding a scheduled subpoena vote next week.

Merck & Co. Inc. CEO Robert Davis and Johnson & Johnson CEO Joaquin Duato will now testify Feb. 8 alongside Bristol Myers Squibb CEO Chris Boerner, who previously agreed to appear before the committee voluntarily.

The decision is an abrupt reversal from the companies’ position in recent days. Both Merck and Johnson & Johnson had refused to testify, accusing Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., of retaliating against them for suing over Medicare’s drug price negotiation program.

Neither drugmaker offered a reason for the sudden change.

“We have accepted the Senate HELP Committee’s invitation for Johnson & Johnson’s Chairman and CEO to participate in a hearing and look forward to building an understanding of our longstanding efforts to improve affordability and access to medicines,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement.

“Given our continued commitment to being a constructive partner in solving this urgent challenge, our CEO will appear before the Committee as requested on February 8,” Merck spokesperson Robert Josephson said in a statement. “We trust that this will be a productive hearing aimed at enhancing the Committee’s understanding of the pharmaceutical industry and finding common sense solutions to the challenges facing patients.”

Sanders announced the companies’ reversal Friday afternoon, one day after a press conference where he dismissed their accusations and laughed at their reasons for refusing to testify. The hearing will focus on why drug prices are higher in the U.S. than in other wealthy countries.

Both Merck and Johnson & Johnson had offered lower-level executives to testify in place of the CEOs, but Sanders’ staff refused. 

The subpoenas would have been the first issued by the committee in 40 years.

“The use of a subpoena was clearly a last resort and I’m delighted that these CEOs will be coming into our committee voluntarily,” Sanders said in a statement thanking the companies.

All three companies manufacture drugs selected for Medicare negotiation, and all three are suing the Biden administration over the program. The negotiation program includes Bristol Myers Squibb’s blood thinner Eliquis, with a list price of $7,100 versus $650 in France, according to the HELP Committee. 

It also includes Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Biotech’s psoriasis drug Stelara, which retails for $79,000 in the U.S. compared to $16,000 in the United Kingdom. The list also includes Merck’s diabetes treatment Januvia, with a list price of $6,900 in the U.S. versus $200 in France, according to the committee.

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