Everyone on my Facebook page was seething with anger when 32 year-old entrepreneur Martin Shkreli bought the rights to Daraprim — a generic HIV drug –and raised the price from $13.50 a tablet to $750. He’d done the same with another drug while working for a different company and used the identical excuse for the increase: he wanted to raise profits so he could afford to expand research for an improved formula. That he failed to follow through with his first promise doesn’t give anyone confidence that he will behave any differently with Daraprim. What Shkreli needs, more than anyone else, is a drug to cure greed.
Unfortunately, values like Shrkeli’s dominate the pharmaceutical industry. According to Peter Bach, MD, drug pricing in the United States is based on a formula other than the cost of research and the need for a reasonable profit. Drug companies charge what they want because they can. “No entity holds them down.” (“Seeking a Cure for Drug-Price Insanity, by Peter Bach, Fortune, September 15, 2015, pg. 64.) Having no leverage, hospitals, doctors and patients become hostage to an ever upward cost spiral for drugs, including generics.
The agents of greed are quick to blame government for high prices, citing the FDA’s long approval process as a major reason, ignoring the fact that the agency has instituted several shortcuts. (Ibid pg. 64.) Also forgotten are grants the government provides to aid research. Nor is there any mention that drugs which cost a fortune in this country are affordable in others. The difference lies with legislatures that allow their governments to negotiate prices — a policy blocked by our Congress, in exchange for lucrative campaign contributions. (Ibid, pg. 64).
While we citizens of the Unite States continue to war over immigration and abortion policies, the vast majority of us do agree that no one should be driven into destitution because of drug price gouging. On this common ground, at least, we should demand that our elected officials give our government agencies the right to negotiate drug prices. If we the people spoke with one voice on this issue, we’d see change. Allowing ourselves to be manipulated by those who thrive on our divisions leaves us with the leaders we deserve.