A Senate committee finally held a hearing Wednesday on President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the National Institutes of Health. But the panel’s chair, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was focused on drug prices — an issue over which the NIH has very little control.
After introducing the nominee, Monica Bertagnolli, at a hearing of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Sanders quickly pivoted to the high prices Americans pay for prescription drugs.
“Let me say a few words about my concerns,” he said, using his opening statement to detail the failures of the country’s “broken” health system. “Very relevant to the hearing that we are conducting right now,” he said, “we spend, as a nation, the highest prices — we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, in some cases 10 times more than the people in other nations.”
The way the hearing began — introducing issues and politics that are not necessarily on point — highlights how much the job of leading the NIH has changed. The agency has a budget of more than $47 billion, making it the largest funder of medical research in the world. But the responsibility of its director has, since the pandemic, taken on new layers of complexity.
It has become “an enormous job of bridging between the world of policy, the world of the public, and the world of science,” said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at KFF.
“Covid turned the scientific healt …