A congressional lawmaker is stepping up pressure on Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, wrote the drug maker to ask that four employees travel to Washington, D.C., for transcribed interviews about their dealings with Philidor Rx Services, a mail-order pharmacy at the heart of an ongoing scandal.
Cummings, who is already investigating Valeant over its pricing practices, wants to learn more about reports that the drug maker hid its relationship with the pharmacy in order to inappropriately boost prescriptions and insurance reimbursements.
Valeant last year purchased an option for $100 million to acquire Philidor, but did not disclose this until after reports appeared last month. Some stories described how Philidor allegedly used surreptitious means to acquire pharmacy licenses in California, where its own license was denied, or changed codes on prescriptions to ensure they were filled with Valeant drugs instead of cheaper generics.
The disclosures prompted the largest pharmacy benefits managers to cancel their contracts with Philidor and Valeant, then cut ties with the pharmacy. The drug maker, meanwhile, formed an independent board committee to examine the relationship.
In his letter, Cummings expresses concern that some Valeant employees helped launch Philidor in 2013 and “remained involved in daily operations.” And he cited reports that Valeant employees used aliases to obscure their connection to the drug maker. Specifically, he wants to interview Gary Tanner, who reportedly left the company in September, Bijal Patel and Alison Pritchett. He also asked for contact information for a former employee named Laizer Kornwasser.
A Valeant spokeswoman wrote us that the drug maker is “reviewing the Congressman’s letter and will respond as appropriate.”
The letter is part of a larger probe into Valeant that Cummings is pursuing. Cummings, who is the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wants to know more about Valeant’s strategy of purchasing medicines at low prices and then jacking up the prices. Earlier this year, for example, Valeant bought the rights to the Isuprel heart-rhythm treatment and the Nitropress blood-pressure drug and then boosted the prices by 525 percent and 212 percent, respectively.
Along with other members of the committee, Cummings has repeatedly tried to get Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the committee chairman, to hold a hearing into Valeant pricing. He wants to subpoena Valeant to compel the drug maker to hand over information on price increases. So far, Chaffetz had resisted the request, but a hearing is now planned for early next year.
Valeant also faces a Dec.9 hearing on its pricing practices before the US Senate Special Committee on Aging, which was called by Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri who heads the committee.
Until recently, its pricing strategy made Valeant a Wall Street darling, despite growing concerns over sky-high pricing. But the episode with Philidor has raised fundamental questions about overall practices. Even though Philidor handled prescriptions that represented about 7 percent of Valeant business, the pharmacy dealt mostly with dermatology drugs, which constitute about one-fifth of Valeant’s business.
Subsequently, the drug maker’s stock has lost more than 60 percent of its value since the beginning of August, a drop precipitated, in part, by widely circulated reports by at least one influential short seller, Andrew Left of Citron Research.
[This post was updated to reflect the hearing the House Oversight Committee will hold].