he rising cost of prescription drugs is an issue in midterm races across the country, but nowhere more so than in New Jersey, where one candidate is the recently retired CEO of an actual drug company.
So we decided to take a look at the rhetoric in that race, pitting incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez against former Celgene boss Bob Hugin. In TV ads blanketing New Jersey (and Philadelphia and New York City), Menendez paints his opponent as a craven profiteer, raising prices on patients with no other options. But Hugin argues that Celgene has saved thousands of lives by giving away doses of its banner cancer drug for free to patients who can’t afford it.
Each ad is at least somewhat based in fact, and that seemed like reason enough to explore which claims adhere to the truth, stretch it to its limits, or abandon it outright.
Here are some claims from Menendez’s ads — and how they check out:
Claim: Hugin said the more people need a drug, the more Celgene should charge.
Not exactly. The drug in question, Revlimid, is approved to treat more types of cancer than it was in 2005, when it was first approved. Under Hugin’s leadership, Celgene consequently believed the drug was more valuable, therefore it could charge more for it — not just because more people needed it.
Claim: Hugin raised the price of the cancer drug three times in one year.
True! Celgene has raised the price of Revlimid many times, including three times in one year.
Claim: Hugin cut the price of the drug in half for Russia.
It’s certainly true that Revlimid is cheaper in Russia, but that’s because it faces generic competition there. The idea that Hugin cut the price for Russia … doesn’t make much sense.
Claim: Hugin made over $48 million over the course of 15 months.
And here are some claims from Hugin’s ads:
Claim: Hugin helped hundreds of thousands of patients afford their medicines.
Probably true. Celgene, like other biopharma companies, provide some patients with its medications for free when they can’t afford them, or offer discounts.
Claim: Menendez took nearly $1 million from pharma.
True. (Among the companies that have donated to him: Celgene.)
Claim: Menendez voted for higher drug costs for seniors on Medicare.
Menendez did vote for bills that arguably had those effects, but he and others would certainly take issue with the characterization of the legislation.