Axios Pro: Health Care PolicyThought Bubble

March 20, 2023

Axios Pro Exclusive Content

Good morning ... It's a big hearing week on the Hill, so here's a look ahead at one of the Wednesday hearings that could get a little hot.

1 big thing: Everyone's mad at Moderna

Senator Bernie Sanders talks to reporters at the Capitol

Sanders talks to reporters outside the Senate chamber March 14. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel is probably going to be pretty friendless this week when he testifies in front of the HELP Committee — a reflection of just how much the company's reputation has changed for the worse over the last couple of years, Caitlin Owens reports.

Between the lines: Even though Bancel will almost certainty be the target of bipartisan ire, Democrats and Republicans are generally mad at Moderna for different reasons.

The big picture: The hearing's title — "Taxpayers Paid Billions for It: So Why Would Moderna Consider Quadrupling the Price of the COVID Vaccine?" — leaves little question as to what Bernie Sanders' issue with the company is.

  • “The bottom line here is Moderna has received substantial amounts of federal support in developing and selling the vaccine," Sanders told Caitlin in a hallway interview.
  • "The CEO of Moderna the last couple of years has increased his wealth by $5 billion. Others have done phenomenally well, and then they thank the taxpayers by wanting to quadruple the price of the drug,"
  • He seemed confident that he wouldn't be alone in his frustration. "I would be surprised if all members of the committee were not upset about that," he added.

The backstory: Bancel told the Wall Street Journal this year that the company is considering charging $110 to $130 per dose once its government contract expires, but hasn't formally announced its price yet.

What they're saying: “I think this [concern] is bipartisan," said Sen. Tommy Tuberville, mentioning his own experience paying for a pricey drug. "We got to get a handle on this some way.”

  • But ranking member Bill Cassidy said he's reserving judgment for now. “They haven’t announced their price yet.… Why don’t we think about what’s actually taking place? Try and have a little bit of understanding, is there a rationale?"
  • "It’s just something I have to understand a little bit more," he said.

Yes, but: The hearing comes as Republicans across the ideological spectrum raise all kinds of COVID vaccine-related questions, including whether the approval process was politicized and whether possible vaccine risks have been downplayed.

  • Some, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, have questioned the behavior of the vaccine makers themselves.
  • “I think we got some bad information all through the first two years of the virus. I think there was some wrong information given," Tuberville said.

The other side: "Moderna’s vaccines have protected the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world from COVID-19 and have dramatically lessened the burden of the pandemic to society," the company said in a statement last month.

  • "Moderna remains committed to ensuring that people in the United States will have access to our COVID-19 vaccines regardless of ability to pay."

The bottom line: If you like watching pile-ons featuring both Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul, Wednesday's hearing will almost certainly be must-see TV for you.

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