Pharma Greed Run Amuk

Congress, especially its GOP members, created the Martin monster.

Martin Shkreli is only one of the monsters the GOP Congress has created. Probably our best hope is that one or many, like Shkreli, will overreach in an outrageous greed that our government has condoned for decades. Like errant spoiled children, pharmaceuticals (Pharma) have run roughshod over an obliging Congress and a consuming public since politicians – in effect – gave them license to steal.

George W. Bush’s GOP-controlled Congress actually passed a Medicare drug program that forbade Medicare officials to bargain with Pharma for reasonable drug prices paid by seniors, even though 83 percent of Americans support allowing the federal government to negotiate prices with drug companies. In addition, the same Congress made it illegal for American consumers to buy much cheaper drugs from foreign countries, which 72 percent of Americans support. Only a few comparisons are represented in the table below.

indexShkreli, a 32 year old brat CEO, is the perfect image of pharmaceutical-industry greed run amuck.  His company bought Daraprim, the only approved drug for a rare and sometimes deadly parasitic infection, and raised its price more than 50-fold.  Though Daraprim is a generic drug, the FDA rules make generic price gouging easier, enabling them to skirt regulations. Shkreli’s indictment for seven counts of securities fraud and subsequent release on bail is an unrelated crime.

He appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Leading it was the same Trey Gowdy who chaired the Benghazi committee witch hunt Marathon against Hillary Clinton. After sporting a seemingly perpetual smirk on his face and proclaiming the 5th Amendment, Shkreli later took time out to tweet an insult to members of the committee, “Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government.” Congress’ 9% approval rating, which seems to mirror Shkreli’s popularity, left no room for sympathy toward either.

Theater aside, there is real suffering instigated by a government dedicated to the needs of crony capitalists, mostly GOP legislators who elude the needs of citizens. Five choice years over the last decade saw over 60 million non-senior American adults, averaging somewhere around 40%, not get access to health problems due to exorbitant cost, many with insurance. Almost one-fourth over that period failed to get prescriptions filled because of cost.

Stories abound regarding seniors who must choose food and shelter over high-priced prescriptions, especially with the Medicare donut-hole still intact until 2020. The “donut-hole” period starts when retail spending for your drugs reach $3310, but only ends when total out-of-pocket expenses reach $4700.

During this period, seniors pay about 50% of the cost of their medication, the percent decreasing until the donut hole phases out in 2020, this thanks to the ACA (“Obamacare”). For many now, the donut hole falls between May and October. The high-price prescriptions involve commonly-needed pills for type-2 diabetes or cancer, making senior health extremely high-priced, that is, if you can afford to pay for needed prescriptions.

It gets personal when my one-year-old granddaughter’s painful earache requires medicine like Cortisporin which used to cost $6 for a vial and has been around for over 40 years. The non-generic version – more potent — now sells for $195, the generic for $144 – all this after Endo Health Solutions acquired rights to it and moved to Ireland to avoid American taxes. Now, my son and daughter-in-law can afford it, but what about millions of other parents, some making minimum wage and working two or three jobs?

As Bernie Sanders says, “We have the most expensive health care system in the world.” As a country in 2013, we paid about 18% of our GDP for health care, France, 12%, UK, 9%, and Canada, 11%. A huge part of that is profit, the priority for the companies who control health care in the U.S.

One thing is clear, with the excuse of the ACA (“Obamacare”) to cover their tracks of raising prices – premiums, prescription drugs, and co-pays – the health care industry is systematically raising the price of health care for all of us.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Elijah Cummings introduced legislation to rein in drug prices last year. “Americans should not have to live in fear that they will go bankrupt if they get sick,” Sanders said. “The pharmaceutical industry spent nearly $230 million in lobbying last year and employs over 1,400 registered lobbyists.”

The legislation authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies to bring down costs for drugs purchased through Medicare. It includes tougher penalties for drug company fraud and prohibits the practice of brand name drug makers paying competitors to keep lower-priced generic substitutes off the market. It also removes barriers to the importation of lower-cost drugs from Canada.

With GOP control of both houses, there is little reason to hope for any success in passing it. The GOP majority is famous for ignoring needs of Americans, even with massive support. This is especially true in the highly-gerrymandered House of Representatives.

James Hoover is a recently retired systems engineer. He has advanced degrees in Economics and English. Prior to his aerospace career, he taught high school, and he has also taught college courses. He recently published a science fiction novel called Extraordinary Visitors and writes political columns on several websites. Read other articles by James.