Ocasio-Cortez lays into drug company CEO, telling him to his face that his greed is killing people

A photo of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Gilead CEO Daniel O'Day.
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US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has railed against the CEO of a drug company and by extension the private healthcare industry. She argued that health is treated like a commodity by drugs companies, and that “people are dying” as a result.

Understanding US healthcare

Ocasio-Cortez made the comments during a congressional hearing involving Daniel O’Day, the CEO of drug company Gilead. She contended that companies like Gilead are taking advantage of sick people. Using an iPhone as an example, she said: “This is a commodity”.

She went on to explain the economics of having an option when it comes to choosing a product:

When we talk about economics there’s something known as a demand curve, with elasticity. And with every other commodity you can say ‘How much is this phone worth to you?’. And you can say ‘$100, $200’. You can buy a Nokia phone. You can not have a phone at all.

But healthcare, she argued, is not like this. She insisted:

But you cannot ask the question ‘how much will you pay to be alive? How much will you pay to live?’. Because the answer is everything. The answer is, you will pay $10, you will pay $1,000, you will go into debt. You will do anything to live.

As a result, she declared:

Read on...

And that is what makes the price of medicine different than the price of an iPhone.

A tidy profit

Ocasio-Cortez also directly questioned O’Day about the price his company charges for medication. She singled out a drug called Truvada which some health professionals use to treat HIV. It’s also used as Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent people from becoming HIV positive.

O’Day’s company charges people in the US nearly $2,000 per month for it. But by comparison, patients in Australia pay only $8. His response was that:

Truvada still has patent protection in the United States and in the rest of the world it is generic.

The CEO’s answer did not please the congresswoman. She insisted that:

There’s no reason this should be $2,000 dollars a month. People are dying because of it and there’s no enforceable reason for it.

She also noted that scientists developed the drug using taxpayer money. And she reasoned:

I think it’s important that we notice here that we the public, we the people, developed this drug. We paid for this drug, we led and developed all of the grounding patents to create PrEP. And then that patent has been privatised despite the fact that the patent is owned by the public. We refuse to enforce it.


One Twitter user had the perfect description of O’Day’s company’s policies:

And another congratulated Ocasio-Cortez on her questioning of O’Day:

A failed model

The US model of healthcare is failing people. One study found that people in the US spend twice as much on healthcare than people in other wealthy countries. When compared with ten other countries, including the UK, the US also has worse results in health. For example, it has the lowest life expectancy and a higher infant mortality rate.

Given this, Ocasio-Cortez’s comments are an insight into how the US healthcare model works; and specifically, how it works to the advantage of drug companies at the expense of the average person.

Featured image via YouTube screenshot

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