In December of 2015, we all had a collective sigh of relief when ‘Pharma Bro’ Martin Shkreli was arrested for securities fraud after he had become perhaps the most hated man in America for buying a pharmaceutical company and then jacking up prices for life-saving drugs.
‘No one wants to say it, no one’s proud of it, but this is a capitalist society, a capitalist system and capitalist rules,’ Shkreli said in an interview at the Forbes Healthcare Summit. ‘And my investors expect me to maximize profits, not to minimize them or go half or go 70 percent but to go to 100 percent of the profit curve.’
Witnessing stories like this as well as the Republicans fight to overturn Obamacare, it has become clear that the clash between capitalism and healthcare has illuminated the real failures America has had in preventing the rule of greed in areas like healthcare, pharmaceuticals, Wall Street, minimum-wage increases, immigration reform, and campaign finance reform.
The ‘new pharmaceutical villain’ appears to be Heather Bresch, chief executive of Mylan, owner of the EpiPen epinephrine injectors. The price of EpiPen went up fourfold – 400 percent in the past decade, and she got a huge pay raise of 671 percent, to $18.9 million a year, but for people who need the treatment, it could be a choice of either their lives or their bank accounts.
Ms. Bresch, who happens to have Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia for a father, is being investigated by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut. Blumenthal is demanding to know why there appears to be a “virtual monopoly” on Mylan’s EpiPen device.
Now stories are circulating that the price of insulin, developed almost a century ago, and obviously, a drug people’s lives depend on has also tripled in the last decade. In real terms, what used to be around $200 a month is now more like $500, or the cost of a car or mortgage payment.
Drug companies can avoid competition with generic lower-prices drugs by making ‘small improvements’ in the drugs, thus extending their patents on the drug. The companies that make insulin: Sanofi, Eli Lilly, and Novo Nordisk have raised their prices together, an approach called “shadow pricing.”
Hillary Clinton weighed in on the EpiPen story:
‘That’s outrageous – and it’s just the latest troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers,’ Clinton said in a statement. ‘It’s wrong when drug companies put profits ahead of patients, raising prices without justifying the value behind them.’
She proposes to lower drug costs for consumers. The U.S. government currently, and most illogically, does not cap what drugmakers can charge.
The consequence is that monopolistic drug companies are free to set whatever price they see fit. When people’s lives are on the line, they are forced to pay or face a health crisis. Of course, the charges that hospitals currently charge their patients for items and services is also through the roof, as every American knows. We are being gouged by a ruthless and greedy system that puts profits above human lives.
The miraculous fact is that President Obama was able to begin the reformation process of our healthcare system, despite Republicans at least 50 attempts to repeal out of nothing more than pure greed. They never had any ideas of what to replace it with –they were just representing the greed of the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, in all likelihood.
The system conspicuously needs much more reformation. The United States must start capping the costs that these industries charge. There is no excuse any lobbyist, pharmaceutical rep., or CEO can give for the current deplorable parasitic and predatory way they have behaved in our ruthlessly capitalist society, especially in the area of healthcare.
Featured image: Heather Bresch, Martin Shkreli, Wikimedia Commons