Is Valeant Pharmaceuticals obstructing a congressional investigation?
That’s the accusation that one congressman leveled in a letter sent Monday to the drug maker. In his missive, Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, noted that he twice before had requested Valeant provide documents about its pricing practices. He also asked the company to make executives available for interviews to explain a controversial relationship with a mail-order pharmacy.
But Cummings, who wants the information in advance of a congressional hearing scheduled for early next year, complained that the drug maker never complied with his requests. But he did note that the drug maker hired the Vianovo crisis management public relations firm and Robert Kelner, a partner at the Covington & Burling law firm, who specializes in defending companies in front of Congress.
“Your refusal to provide any documents or witnesses is obstructing this congressional investigation and preventing a full understanding of your company’s action,” wrote Cummings, who is the ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “Your failure to provide any legitimate justification for this obstruction raises additional serious concerns about your company’s lack of transparency with your own shareholders, with regulating agencies and with Congress.”
A spokeswoman for Valeant sent us this: “We disagree with many of the Congressman’s statements. Nevertheless, we will review his letter and respond appropriately. Valeant has provided information to the committee and will continue to cooperate with requests from the committee.” The spokeswoman did not respond to a question asking about the specific information that was given to the committee.
However, on Sept. 3, Valeant sent a two-page letter stating that “the specific documents and information referenced in your letter are highly proprietary and confidential.” More recently, Kelner sent Cummings a two-paragraph letter on Nov. 20 that did not provide any of the requested documents or witnesses, but he did promise to “engage with your staff to discuss your concerns.”
Valeant has made headlines thanks, in part, to its pricing policies. The drug maker became a national story after a report disclosed the company bought the rights to a pair of heart medicines frequently used by hospitals — Isuprel and Nitropress — and the following day jacked up the prices by 525 percent and 212 percent, respectively. Last week, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held its own hearing on prescription drug pricing and chastised Valeant for its moves.
More recently, a scandal erupted over its relationship with a mail-order pharmacy, Philidor Rx Services, amid allegations the drug maker used the company to inappropriately boost prescriptions and insurance reimbursements. In his letter, Cummings argued that Valeant withheld material information about the arrangement from shareholders.
For those who may not recall, Valeant purchased an option to buy Philidor, but did not disclose this until after reports appeared. And 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 events battered Valeant’s stock and reputation, especially after Bill Ackman, whose Pershing Square Capital Management is a big investor in the drug maker, questioned the ability of Valeant chief executive Michael Pearson to lead the company out of the mess. The drug maker has subsequently spent the past few weeks scrambling to recover.
Cummings, meanwhile, is now asking for still more information from the company, including a special board report on the Philidor Rx relationship that is being compiled by an ad hoc Valeant board committee. And he made a point of copying each Valeant board member in his letter.