Posted by Bill Sandweg on 15 October 2018.
The answer is, “They spent $2.3 billion on lobbying over the last 20 years.” If you answered, “What is the pharmaceutical lobby?,” you won. Actually, you didn’t win. You lost because all that drug money flowing into Washington did exactly what it was intended to do: keep drug prices in the United States higher than anywhere else in the world.
Examples of drug company disregard for fairness or for common decency are found in the news on a daily basis. A drug company in 2015 gained control of a 62-year-old drug for treating parasitic infections and promptly raised the price from $13.50 per pill to $750. That is an increase of 5,450%. Another drug company purchased the patent on an important drug for treating drug-resistant tuberculosis and raised the price for 30 pills from $500 to $10,800, a 2,000% increase. Even generic drugs are not immune from this behavior. Still another drug company bought the right to produce two generic heart drugs. This company was much more considerate of the public good as it only raised the prices of these generic medicines by 535% and 212%. With generic drugs there can be no argument that the company is just trying to recoup the costs of development. The only justification for raising prices like this is greed.
As I noted last week in the context of life-saving insulin, these high prices often prevent Americans from getting the medications they need. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 20% of Americans have difficulty affording their prescriptions and 24% have failed to fill a prescription, cut pills in half or skipped doses to try and save money.
One of the reasons drugs for older Americans cost so much is that Congress, that is your United States Congress, has passed a law forbidding Medicare from negotiating price cuts from the pharmaceutical industry. That lobbying money was well-spent. It would have been a bargain had they spent twice as much.
The New York Times just reported that there is a new drug for treating HIV. If taken, the drug keeps the HIV from making the patient sick and keeps the HIV from spreading to others who might come into sexual contact with the patient. These are important things. The drug costs $75 a year in Africa. Essentially the same drug costs $39,000 a year in the United States. There are some predictable results. Fewer that half of the HIV patients living in the United States take medications which keep their HIV under control and non-contagious. This is a lower percentage than in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Malawi. What is going on when African states, which are much poorer than we, do a better job of keeping their citizens alive and healthy than we do?
Stop being played for suckers and do something, people.