How much is it worth to you to save your child’s life? $1 million? $10 million?
How much is it worth it to you to have the medication that will prolong your mother’s life from Multiple Myeloma, $10,000 a month? (That’s what the medication cost.)
The issue was most recently dramatized by Mylan, the drug company that has a monopolistic control over the EpiPen syringe, and over the course of but a few years, increased the price for an item that can mean the difference between a child surviving a severe allergic response from $57 to $600 (did I mention it has a year-long shelf life?)
The cost of the actual medication, epinephrine, that can stop potentially fatal anaphylactic shock that’s in the EpiPen dispenser? $1.
The steep increase in prices started when drug company Mylan acquired the rights to the EpiPen nearly a decade ago (the company did not even invest in its development).
As they hiked the prices, the salaries of their top executives skyrocketed: From 2007 to 2015, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch’s total compensation went from $2.5 million to 3,456 to $18,9 million, a mind-blowing 671 percent increase.
“I am a for-profit business. I am not hiding from that,” Bresch declared. Indeed, Mylan also dodges paying taxes in America, by using the insidious “inversion” loophole.
In other words, Mylan charges more because it can. Its sole aim is to maximize return for management and investors.
There are laws against price-gouging — for food, water, gasoline.
There are regulations that keep utility prices — for water, water treatment, electricity — in check, where price hikes have to be justified.
Why are there no checks on drug companies, beyond public shaming (which does not seem to work).
Price gouging on life-saving drugs is only one glaring example of why it is an absurdity to operate the health care system as a purely capitalistic, free-market commodity — and yet, this is exactly what is presented by candidates Donald Trump, who vows to repeal Obamacare and the Libertarian Gary Johnson, who thinks that what is wrong with health care system is that there isn’t enough free market forces at work, while Green Party candidate Jill Stein, an actual doctor, has said that the science on childhood vaccinations isn’t definitive.
Hillary Clinton actually has a detailed policy prescription:
Building upon the comprehensive plan she offered earlier in the campaign last year, Clinton is calling for action to protect consumers from unjustified prescription drug price increases by companies that are marketing long-standing, life-saving treatments and face little or no competition.
Clinton would convene representatives of federal agencies charged with ensuring health and safety and fair competition, and create a dedicated group charged with protecting consumers from outlier price increases. They will determine an unjustified, outlier price increase based on specific criteria including: 1. the trajectory of the price increase; 2. the cost of production; and 3. the relative value to patients, among other factors that give rise to threatening public health.
Should an excessive, outlier price increase be determined for a long-standing treatment, Clinton’s plan would make new enforcement tools available including:
Making alternatives available and increasing competition: Directly intervening to make treatments available, and supporting alternative manufacturers that enter the market and increase competition, to bring down prices and spur innovation in new treatments.
Emergency importation of safe treatments: Broadening access to safe, high-quality alternatives through emergency importation from developed countries with strong safety standards.
Penalties for unjustified price increase to hold drug companies accountable and fund expanded access: Holding drug makers accountable for unjustified price increases with new penalties, such as fines — and using the funds or savings to expand access and competition.
As it is the system is designed to impede research and development into new drug treatments for ailments and diseases that would not have a big enough pay-back (for example, rarer diseases).
The Obama Administration has supported an initiative which focuses on precision medicine — that is, matching appropriate treatments to genetic make up (it’s why certain asthma treatments are less effective for African-Americans and Hispanics than Caucasians), and how certain cancer treatments (such as envisioned in Biden’s Cancer Moonshot) can be much more targeted.
The Health Care Industrial Complex, however, is not designed to prevent or cure, but prolong the stream of profits.