The Price Of Drugs

By

Leonard Zwelling

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/05/health/drug-prices.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fscience&action=click&contentCollection=science&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=7&pgtype=sectionfront

This article was published in the Science section of The New York Times on March 6. It describes several patients with serious, debilitating diseases requiring specialized drug treatments to survive and how those patients struggle to find the money to defray the costs of the drugs.

This is ridiculous.

I understand that luxury items like fancy cars, Tiffany rings, and mink costs are not within the grasp of everyone. There’s a market for that stuff and people can decide if they wish to spend the money they have on such items.

But when it comes to drugs that preserve life, I am not at all convinced that this should be subject to market forces. Drugs like Gleevec should not be luxury items and why does the price of an older drug continue to go up anyway? According to the article, Gleevec was $26,000 a year when it was introduced in 2001. Now it’s $146,000, or was in 2016. Generic competition now exists, but still the price is far above the 2001 level.

These drugs uniquely cost a fortune in America where drug prices are not controlled by the government. Medicare cannot even negotiate the price down for the drugs for its recipients. That’s crazy.

It does fit with the rest of the American health care non-system though. What you get depends on how you pay and to some extent how much. That’s no system at all.

Health care access ought to be a common right of everyone and paying for it ought to be viewed as a collective responsibility as we do for the services of the police, the fire department, and the US military. In other words, we need to develop a uniquely American single payer system that may co-exist with concierge medicine for those willing to pay cash. It is not likely that concierge practices will dot the landscape any time soon. There simply are not enough doctors and not enough money for cash reimbursement to these practices.

None of the people described in the Times’ article asked to be sick. This was not a choice. It seems illogical to victimize people who have the misfortune of being both sick and not wealthy by allowing drugs needed to sustain their lives to remain out of reach for financial reasons. America is better than that. We believe that every child needs an education. We believe every law-abiding citizen gets police protection. Every citizen has the right to vote and, God help us, I guess we all have the right to own a gun. It would seem that getting necessary medicine to patients is the least we can do for each other and for the welfare of the country.

It is time for the government to either step in and limit the profits of big pharma to something less than usury or install a single payer system so that the needs of all Americans for a reasonable chance at life is supported by a nationwide community effort to pay for it.

Live-saving drugs should not be subject to market forces. Patients must be more than simply customers. Profits are one thing. A pound of flesh quite another.

Leonard Zwelling