Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell wasn’t the only one in the hot seat in Washington on Wednesday. Stephane Bancel, CEO of pharmaceutical company Moderna, was up on the Hill to testify in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
Members of Congress experienced severe sticker shock and were none too happy about the company’s recent announcement that it’s going to charge about $130 a shot for its COVID-19 vaccine after the national health emergency ends in May.
During the hearing, Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, highlighted billions of dollars the U.S. government spent to help develop and roll out Moderna’s extremely profitable mRNA-based vaccine.
“This vaccine would not exist without [the National Institutes of Health’s] partnership and expertise and the substantial investment of the taxpayers of this country,” Sanders said.
The $130 refers to the list price of the vaccine, which is something of a starting point for negotiations, according to Richard Hughes, a partner at the law firm Epstein Becker Green. He was a Moderna executive until about a year ago.
“No American who is not a health insurance company is going to see a $130 price tag for this vaccine,” he said, adding that government or private insurance will still cover the cost for most people.
“The government will continue to receive a very low price. And companies do negotiate discounts with payers,” he said.
Even so, when insurers pay more, so do their customers and taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Andrea Ducas, a senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said plenty of others are affected too.
“There’s still about 30 million people who don’t have health insurance,” she said. “And for those folks, they would be … unless there’s a patient assistance program, expected to pay out of pocket.”
Moderna’s Bancel said Wednesday that the company would ensure that anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one without cost being a barrier.
Additional reporting by Trina Mannino.